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SMC offers community course

by Meghan Loney | Monday, September 13, 2010


Saint Mary’s students will now have the opportunity to earn class credit while working with the local community.
Saint Mary’s justice education program and Campus Ministry have joined together to offer a one-credit course, titled “The Church in the City,” which presents a first-hand experience within the South Bend community for Saint Mary’s students. This is the first time the course has been offered. 
Jan Pilarski, director of the justice education program, said she believes it is important for students to learn more about the communities of South Bend. 
“Building bridges with the local community is an important piece of the course,” Pilarski said.  “Although we are just a couple miles form downtown, it feels more distant than that.”
The 15 students who are accepted into the course will be given the opportunity to spend the weekend of Nov. 5 in the heart of the South Bend Latino community as guests of La Casa de Amistad and St. Adalbert’s parish.  
“[La Casa de Amistad works] to empower the Latino/ Hispanic community within Michiana by providing educational, cultural and advocacy services in a welcoming, bilingual environment,” according to the organization’s mission statement on its website.
St. Adalbert’s Parish is a Roman Catholic community founded by Polish-Americans.  Now the church population is a mixture of those who worship in English, Polish and Spanish.  
The actual goal of the weekend is not to do physical work in the community, and Pilarski said it is not a mission trip. The goal is to offer the people in the neighborhood the chance to share their stories with the students. 
“That may sound minimal, but it is life-changing,” Pilarski said. “I would really emphasize that it is one of the best services we can offer people who don’t have their story heard by the majority of the population. This course presents an opportunity to share in their struggles and learn the experience of poverty how it is to be an immigrant, why they came to diffuse some of the myths of immigration and to see them as they are.”
Pilarski held two informational meetings this week on the course.  She introduced the foundation on which the course was designed and gave the students an idea of what their weekend in the South Bend community might entail. 
The structure of the course is a combination of four informational and reflection sessions, a weekend spent in the community of focus and a four to five page reflection paper. 
Friday, Nov. 5, students will travel downtown in a group where they will arrive on site, get their bearings and meet individuals who are hosting them for the weekend.  This night will be one to socialize and perhaps share in music or dance, Pilarski said during one of the information meetings. 
There will be an opportunity on Saturday to take a tour of the community in order to get a sense of the housing and organizations.  The rest of the day will be spent encountering key leaders from the Latino community who are immigrants themselves. 
La Casa de Amistad has a group called La Collectiva, made up of about two dozen middle and high school students who are engaged in leadership development. Saint Mary’s students would have the opportunity to take part in a leadership training session with them on Saturday, Pilarski said. 
Saint Mary’s students will also have the chance to meet with another organization heavily involved in the community, Transforming Action Through Power. This organization is made up of 15 congregations in South Bend and focuses on leadership training as well as working on key issues that greatly affect the community — immigration, education within South Bend public schools and poverty, Pilarski said. 
The course is a one-credit, pass/fail course. For more information and to pick up applications, students can see Jan Pilarski or Judy Fean. Applications are due by Wednesday.