Cristo Rey Networking

July 29, 2009

A few weeks back, I received an unexpected LinkedIn invitation from Terry Gupta, Business Development Consultant at North Cambridge Catholic High School’s Work Study Program. She contacted me because we both belong to the JVC LinkedIn group and she noticed that I worked at Brodeur Partners, one of NCCHS’s sponsors, last summer. NCCHS, like Cristo Rey High School in Baltimore, is a part of the Cristo Rey Network of high schools.

Today, I went into North Cambridge to meet with Terry and discuss their corporate sponsorship (Here’s a list of current sponsors) and work study program. When I arrived, Terry was in a meeting, so the current Jesuit Volunteer at NCCHS, Jen Krasowski, gave me a quick tour of the school and introduced me to some students and staff members. Afterward, we sat and talked about her JVC experience. She told me about how her JV house had organized food and money, what they had done for community nights, and some of the “perks” to being a JV.

Later, Terry introduced me to Jeff Thielman (Bio), President of NCCHS and former Vice President of the Cristo Rey Network, where he oversaw the expansion of the network from 1 to 24 schools. As far as the education and nonprofit sector (and life) go, Jeff is a rockstar among rockstars. I had read about him, his volunteering, and his work in More Than a Dream. After graduating from Boston College, he spent three and a half years volunteering in Peru, and, after dabbling (successfully, I might add) in the corporate world, became involved in Cristo Rey Chicago’s fund raising and the network’s expansion efforts. Meeting him only confirmed what I had already thought: he’s a genuine and incredibly smart man and it was an honor meeting him.

Next, I spoke with Terry about the Corporate Work Study Program. We talked about Twitter, blogs, and social media and how each could help spread the good word about the program and potentially attract more companies to it. I tried to stress that social media is a good tool, but a tool that takes time and commitment. We also discussed networking events, referrals, retreats, and their website. It was a good discussion and I learned a lot more about how the Cristo Rey schools work as a business. NCCHS’s Work Study Program is in great hands with Terry.

All in all, visiting NCCHS, meeting some of the employees and students there, and speaking with selfless people like Jen, Terry, and Jeff further showed me how absolutely fantastic the Cristo Rey Network is and added to my excitement to get started in Baltimore.

Without LinkedIn and social networking, we wouldn’t have connected. Pretty darn cool, if you ask me. Have you made any connections via LinkedIn or social networking lately?

Countdown to JVC Orientation: 15 days. Two more weeks, folks!


Charity vs. Social Justice: What’s the Difference?

July 22, 2009

“What is your understanding of charity? Of social justice?”

As I looked over my JVC application’s short answer section, this question stared back at me. I had seen this question in my applications to lead service break trips at Villanova and I hearkened back to what my co-leaders and I had written. I remembered thinking of the difference between the two. Was there really a difference? Could one achieve the other? Was one part of the other? What was my(our) understanding of the two?

As we talked about it, Peggy, my co-leader junior year to South Dakota (and, currently, a fellow Jesuit Volunteer in Montana), and I decided that they are not the same thing. Charity, we wrote, is giving people what you can to help ease pain and injustice in order to improve upon the situations of others in whatever way you can. These ways include raising money; donating toys, clothes, food, etc.; and volunteering at a local charity. Charity is truly a great thing, we said.

“What is your understanding of charity? Of social justice?”

“What's your understanding of charity? Of social justice?”

Social justice is different. It’s a step further. Justice is realizing that people deserve to be  treated and understood as people and then reflecting that realization through real interaction. Charity, we decided, can be a means towards social justice. We wrote that, as trip leaders, we would need to be able to reflect both notions as we strove to help others achieve justice.

The same idea will go for me this year in Baltimore. I’ll be donating my time towards others in hopes of helping high school sophomores write well. One of my goals, however, is to go beyond that role. I hope to get to know my students and meet their families, become a part of the community, help out after school with sports, tutoring, and other activities, learn from my fellow JV’s and housemates, and learn as much as I can about the city of Baltimore and its people. Hopefully, through this, I can achieve Peggy’s and my idea of social justice.

What do you think? What’s your understanding of charity and social justice?


Getting with the Cristo Rey Program

July 14, 2009

Previously, I mentioned that The Wire’s portrayal of our city schools inspired me to get involved in education for my year of service. Our education system simply fails to meet the needs of our children, especially in low income areas, and many students don’t have the same opportunity to succeed in their educational journey as those in more privileged areas (Check out author Jonathan Kozol on this, too).

Cristo Rey Jesuit High School, where I’ll be working, provides an affordable private school for families from Baltimore’s disadvantaged areas. It strives to prepare its students for college, work, and life.

Cristo Rey Jesuit in Baltimore is part of a larger network of 22 schools called the Cristo Rey Network. Each school is specifically tailored for low income families. The model that the network uses is absolutely genius. Let me explain: Each student’s education is funded in three ways: First, 60% (here’s where you can brace for the brilliant part) is actually earned by the student. Second, families contribute up to $2,500 to tuition. Lastly, the school’s development office secures a scholarship sponsored by generous individuals and foundations to cover the remainder of tuition.

The student actually pays for part of his or her education through a corporate internship with a local office (Cristo Rey Baltimore’s partners include PNC Bank, Legg Mason, Johns Hopkins Hospital, and AEGON). Yup (and this is where I start to get giddy), the student gains real experience in a real office setting with real professionals. AND, not only is the student gaining this experience, but he or she is able to gain a real sense of ownership for their education.

Without realizing it at the time, I actually worked with some Cristo Rey Network students from North Cambridge Catholic High School last summer at my internship with Brodeur Partners in Boston. They were great kids who had no problems in a corporate setting and it was easy to forget that they were only in high school.

When I read about Cristo Rey’s model and Corporate Internship Program, I knew it was a special program that I would love working for.

(If you would like to learn more about the origins of the Cristo Rey Network and its Corporate Internship Program, check out G.R. Kearney’s More than A Dream: How One’s School’s Vision is Changing the World.)


Challenges Part IV: Real World: Baltimore

July 3, 2009

Community living was one of the major reasons that I chose to do a year of service with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps over many other service organizations. What IS community living, you ask? Basically, I’ll be living with 5 or 6 other JV’s who are doing their volunteer work in the Baltimore area in an intentional community. We’ll be living within Baltimore, together. We will have a group food stipend and we’ll plan reflection and recreation nights together. I’ll be living with people my own age who also chose to dedicate a year for others. Sounds great, right?

It does sound great, but it’ll also be a great challenge. I haven’t lived with someone I’ve never met since freshman year (and I lucked out there) and now I’ll be living with 5 or 6 people I’ve never encountered. We’ll all be there for the same overarching reason, that of completing a year of service, but the specific reasons why we’re each there will likely differ greatly. We’ll come from different backgrounds, schools, and faiths. We’ll be in different places as people, in our faith, and in our lives. We’ll have differing views on what living simply means, we’ll be serving in different capacities, and we’ll have differing schedules.

OK, so how do we all get on the same page? Simple: communication.

I never really got into MTV’s The Real World, but I’ve watched enough of it to realize that communication is vital to any living space with so many people from different backgrounds. Luckily, my community members and I won’t be feeling the pressure of being on TV and may have a bit more in common with each other than Real World participants, but we’ll still need to sit down together and hash out what we expect from our JV community and from each other. Will we go grocery shopping once a month as a group or let one person do it every month or should we do something totally different? Does anyone have allergies or food preferences? When will recreation night be? When will reflection night be? Who’s going to plan these events? What will we do on weekends? What about chores? What if 2 or 3 people need the bathroom to get ready for work at the same time? …And that’s just logistics!

Seems like a lot of work, but if we take the time to do it early on, we’ll save time and frustration in the future. Hopefully, we can make our community into one that is both harmonious and enjoyable for everyone. It’ll take sacrifice and care, but I think we can do it.