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Jenkins to honor CSC overseas

Becky Hogan | Thursday, March 8, 2007

Just two months after his trip to Uganda as part of the Notre Dame Millennium Development Initiative, University President Father John Jenkins celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Puerto Rico Center for Social Concerns (PRCSC) today by making a special visit to Puerto Rico to commemorate the event.

“I think it means quite a bit to [the Center] to have Father Jenkins there to celebrate the anniversary,” said Liz Mackenzie, director of Senior Transition Programs at Notre Dame’s Center for Social Concerns. “The PRCSC is closely tied to Notre Dame. It is mostly Notre Dame grads who work there and a lot of work is done with the alumni club [in Puerto Rico].”

According to Frances Shavers, executive assistant to the President, Jenkins will arrive in Puerto Rico today and will meet with alumni and friends of the University. He will also meet with a reporter from El Nuevo Dia – the largest newspaper on the island.

“The PRCSC has served as a wonderful reflection of and vehicle for the dedication and involvement of members of the Notre Dame family in San Juan and the surrounding communities,” Shavers said. “Father Jenkins is grateful for the vision of the PRCSC’s founders and the efforts of its many staff, volunteers and partners. This is a wonderful way to recognize their work and celebrate the Notre Dame spirit.”

The Center will celebrate its two decades of dedication to Puerto Rican communities with a banquet at the Nautical Club in San Juan today, which will host current volunteers, 14 former volunteers and Notre Dame alumni. The Center’s founders – Jose Enrique, Mary Jane Fernandez and Gilberto and Martita Marxuach – will also attend the event along with ND Club of Puerto Rico president Ricardo Alvarez.

According to Pat Guzman, who has worked at the PRCSC for two years since she graduated from Notre Dame in 2005, the communities of Puerto Rico will show their appreciation to the former and current volunteers by hosting a brunch Friday morning.

The anniversary celebrations mark the first time that Jenkins has visited Puerto Rico and the PRCSC since becoming president of the University.

“Many of these people began their work long before Father Jenkins traveled to these areas, and he encourages members of our campus community to continue partnering with communities worldwide,” Shavers said. “Such experiences, he believes, are an opportunity to collaborate, learn and share.”

Founded in 1988, the PRCSC seeks to respond to the needs of Puerto Rican communities that are plagued by socio-economic challenges. Through programs aimed at improving education and addressing poverty, the non-profit organization facilitates volunteers – many of whom are Notre Dame graduates – to assist in efforts to improve the quality for life in Puerto Rican communities.

“They work with people who are in the community, such as the Salesian Sisters who run the Alepsi Center – one of the education centers there,” Mackenzie said. “They also work with the homeless, and they are always in the community seeing what the community needs and responding to that.”

Each year, the PRCSC takes four to six recent Notre Dame graduates to volunteer in various regions in Puerto Rico.

“It is somewhat competitive, but it’s not as competitive as ACE or Teach for America,” Mackenzie said. “It is one of the few international programs and is only for one year.”

The PRCSC also has a commitment to the La Perla community located in Old San Juan. Through the Hogar Padre Vernard, volunteers like Guzman assist the homeless in the area by running a shower facility.

Guzman is also working with Asociación Pro Juventud where she helped establish a photojournalism club for high school students, who have recently created their own newspaper.

Although graduates accepted to the program are usually placed at one of these sites, Mackenzie said the PRCSC “can sometimes be creative and mold placement sites” according to volunteers’ interests.

According to Mackenzie, applicants to the program do not necessarily need to know how to speak Spanish fluently because part of the experience is gaining a better proficiency in the language. However, the Center for Social Concerns at Notre Dame tries to select at least two applicants who are fluent in Spanish.

“It is a beautiful program … and the Puerto Rican people are so welcoming,” Guzman said. “I encourage any senior to come out and do the program.”