Wednesday, November 2, 2016

***Chicago Part 2***

"If we don't change, we don't grow. If we don't grow, we aren't really living." -- Gail Sheehy

A Friendly Reminder Outside Pui Tak School

Sunday: The Gap students kicked off week two by attending a Catholic mass sponsored by Chicago's Archdiocesan Gay and Lesbian Outreach. AGLO Chicago was created in 1988 to connect the Catholic Church's ministry and pastoral outreach to the often marginalized LGBT community. This mass has been offered since 1971, and continues to grow in service to those who wish to reconcile their sexual orientation with their faith, without compromising one or the other. On their way to the mass, students took part in a walking group scavenger hunt to familiarize themselves with the vibrant street art, the diverse and historical architecture, and the ever changing environments in Chicago's neighborhoods. After their morning at the Kadampa Meditation Center, the AGLO mass, and the city scavenger hunt, students were certainly in tune with the eclectic nature of Chicago.

Writing Papers During Academic Advisement

Monday: Ann Hintz, Director of Academic Advisement, and Dr. Laura Fredrickson, Director of the Gap Experience at St. Norbert College, made the trip down to be with the students for their Academic Advising sessions starting Monday morning. Each student met with Ann and Laura individually to start solidifying plans for their time at St. Norbert College after the Gap semester. Students discussed their interests and concerns within the Gap program, before college, and outside of college, to make sure they were equipped with the tools they needed to be successful upon their return to St. Norbert in December. When the Gapsters were not meeting with Ann and Laura, they were working vigorously on papers, journal entries, and article assignments to stay on track with the program's academically infused experiential service-learning model. Monday was as much a learning day as it was an opportunity for students to catch up on school work for Dr. Egan-Ryan's class -- American Myths, Community and the Individual.

Steve Sharing Some Knowledge in Christ The King's Chapel

Tuesday: Students headed into the Austin neighborhood on the west side of Chicago for a visit to Christ the King Jesuit College Preparatory School -- one of thirty-two schools that make up the Cristo Rey Network. The Cristo Rey model of education is quite unique and is being used in economically challenged neighborhoods throughout the US. The Cristo Rey model empowers students from under served, low-income communities to develop their minds and hearts to become lifelong contributors to society. By providing students an extraordinary college preparatory education that includes a required four-year, integrated corporate work-study experience, students who graduate from a Cristo Rey high school are better prepared to succeed in college, and thereafter, to successfully enter into the workplace based on their previous 4-year work experience in the corporate sector.  Austin, as its residents will tell you, is historically plagued with street violence, poverty, and inadequate access to education. In an effort to empower the local community, the Jesuit order founded CTK School in the heart of Austin. Our students were able to see first hand how successful this school has been, particularly for its students, and the Chicago corporate world. Before the students were taken on a tour of the school, Steve, CTK's Director of Development, along with four students, met with the Gapsters to discuss the school's overall culture, its mission and purpose, and to share their personal stories of how they are achieving their goals during their time at CTK. Steve informed our students that 100% of Christ The King's graduates have been accepted to college. Out of that 100% acceptance rate, 93% have enrolled in a collegiate program. The school's population is comprised of 96% African American students, and 4% Hispanic students. As a condition of enrollment, each student is required to participate in the school's Corporate Work-Study Program, a program that partners with 200 Chicago area businesses, such as prestigious law firms, or distinguished marketing agencies, to name just a few. Students work one day a week, and one weekend a month during the school year, which then continues over the course of their four years in high school. Not only does this give CTK students solid 'real world' work experience, but additionally students are actually paid for their work, which helps to offset the cost of their tuition.

One Of The Street Memorials Highlighted in "Not Forgotten"

Wednesday: After breakfast, the students took the Orange Line (one of Chicago's train routes) downtown on their way to Roosevelt University's Gage Gallery. The Gage Gallery was sponsoring "Gone But Not Forgotten", an exhibit by Thomas Ferrella, and Anne-Marie Cusac, highlighting street memorials throughout Chicago. Through pictures and personal interviews with loved-ones, these memorials told a brief story of the deceased -- where they came from, who they were, how they died, and the sense of loss that was shared by the victims' family and friends. When first entering the gallery, eyes were drawn to photos of beautiful flowers, stuffed animals, glass bottles, posters, and artwork -- all a testimony to the life that was lost. Next, came a selection of audio clips which recounted personal stories of sorrow and mourning that were experienced by surviving loved ones. Many of those who were being memorialized died at the hands of street violence. Slowly, students started to read about the memorials. The interviews and stories the Gapsters read about allowed an intimate glimpse into the pain felt by those involved with each memorial. By the end of their stay, students were asking themselves, "Why such senseless violence?" The Gapsters hoped that this question, and many others, would be answered at their next two site visits.

Gap Crew Posing With Sr. Donna at Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation 
Sr. Sharon of St. Leonard's Gives a Walking Tour
Thursday: Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation - After an intense Wednesday at the Gage Gallery, our students were ready for some answers, and a bit of good news. Thursday was a busy day, starting at Precious Blood (PBMR). While there, the students sat down with Sr. Donna, a member of the Precious Blood order who is responsible for the daily programming and community events at PBMR, to learn a bit more about the mission of the Precious Blood order. Some of the programmatic events include art workshops, media labs, job training, peace circles, and drum sessions -- all of which exemplify the Precious Blood order's commitment to restorative justice, rather than punitive justice. The activity that Sr. Donna spoke about most frequently was the Peace Circles that are part of the PBMR mission. Staying true to their commitment to restorative justice, PBMR uses these circles as a way to build relationships between local rival gang members; between families of crime victims and offenders; and between law enforcement and local community members. Often times, this method of restorative justice is used as an effective replacement or supplement to punitive justice, which notably lacks a healing component necessary for interpersonal growth, which is the solid foundation upon which positive societal change occurs. After speaking with Sr. Sharon, and learning that only 50% of the Peace Circle participants are court ordered, the students were convinced that even those who were committing the acts of violence wished to see it come to an end. The Gapsters learned that often times PBMR's programming is the only healthy alternative many young men have to joining street gangs and falling victim to community violence.

St. Leonard's - After their morning at Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation, the Gap group headed to St. Leonard's Ministries, where they were greeted by Sr. Sharon, the ministry's Volunteer Services Coordinator. Founded in 1954, St. Leonard's has provided interim housing and supportive services to formerly incarcerated men and women transitioning back to the community from Illinois prisons. The creation and development of St. Leonard's was the result of a number of factors: the rapid increases in unemployment due to international job outsourcing and technological advancements, the over-crowding of jails and prisons as a consequence of the war on drugs, and the splintering of gangs after the arrests of local gang leaders. With continually high unemployment rates, and soaring rates of incarceration due to drug addiction, Chicago sees a 60-80% recidivism rate overall of those who are sentenced to jail or prison. Comparatively, the rate of recidivism for those who transition back to society vis-a-vis the services offered through St. Leonard's Ministries is only 12% for men, and 5% for women. These statistics alone were enough to convince our students that the life-skills training programs, the AODA counseling and relapse prevention services, and the social and recreational opportunities provided by organizations such as PBMR and St. Leonard's are absolutely critical and necessary in order to bring about large scale change within communities historically oppressed by violence and addiction.

Attendees Waiting For The Prayer Vigil To Commence
Hillary and Gapsters Outside Cook Co. Courthouse

Friday: Prayer VigilOur final day in Chicago was spent re-kindling concepts and ideas surrounding issues that the Gap cohort learned about in New Mexico. The students were awake and ready to go by 5:45 a.m. so that they could attend an early morning Prayer Vigil for individuals being deported from Broadview Deportation Center. The vigil is put on by the Chicago Religious Leadership Network (CRLN) with the intention of supporting the families and friends of persons who are being deported due to their status of not being a legal citizen of the United States. The CRLN also attempts to move the needle on immigration reform through political action, actively encouraging participants to exercise their legal right of contacting both local and national governmental officials, expressing the critical need of immigration reform. As our Gapsters can tell you, of the more than 31,000 immigrants currently detained in the United States, nearly 10,000 spent more than a month in detention facilities, while some are being detained for more than a year (in certain cases up to five years) awaiting a verdict or resolution to their immigration case. Our students attended the vigil as a show of solidarity for the families being separated by deportation.

Taller de José - The students last visit in Chicago was to Taller de José Resource Center. Upon our arrival, the Gapsters were kindly greeted by Hillary, who would be our guide and agency spokesperson for the visit. Spending the afternoon with Hillary was a phenomenal way for the students to unpack their morning at the Prayer Vigil. Taller de José is an organization that helps connect over 1,100 clients to various legal and human resource agencies throughout greater Chicagoland. In a nutshell, Taller de' Jose accompanies and advises persons of Latino or Hispanic decent how to navigate the legal and social/human service systems that may be unfamiliar and somewhat intimidating for them to access. During her presentation and accompanying walking tour, Hillary gave the students a more in-depth understanding of why Taller de José offers such vital services. The organization is based in the Little Village neighborhood, which has a Hardship Index rating of 96/100. To give a comparison, Millennium Park (home of the Chicago Bean) has a rating of 4/100. This rating is derived by looking at a number of social indices such as: poverty rate (29.5%), average annual income ($10,867), unemployment rate (14.3%), high school education rate (54.8%), residential overcrowding rate (17.2%), and level of governmental aid (33.2%). After seeing these numbers, our students certainly understood the need for the companion or accompaniment services offered by Taller de José.

By the end of their time in Chicago, the Gapsters were optimistic about their ability to understand the complexities that many under served persons face who live in the greater Chicagoland area. Through rigorous nightly discussions and debriefings, students were encouraged to look at their own level of privilege, and assess where, and how, they might confront the many disparities for those who have historically been marginalized... both in regard to those in Chicago, but additionally, those in their own home communities. During this portion of their semester-long journey, students were exposed to some heavy hitting social issues, and often times found themselves uncomfortable, and did not enjoy sitting with those feelings. Many students were able to empathize, and identify with the pain and sorrow experienced by community members plagued by violence and poverty. However, at each step along the way, the skilled programming staff at the Br. David Darst Center, provided the students with tangible 'action steps' they might take to address some of the more pressing social injustices they encountered during their stay in Chicago  Looking toward the future, our Gapsters became confident in their abilities to effect larger social change. Next we head to Guatemala to learn more about global structural injustice and the historical ideologies that perpetuate these injustices.

Next up: Central America! Stay Tuned...

For more pictures of the Gapsters second week in Chicago, please follow the link below:

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