Fourteen Cabrini University faculty learned from a master teacher of social justice, who, by his own admission, said he could read only on a third-grade level. David had spent 25 years on the streets of Philadelphia, homeless. He is now a staff member at Project HOME,
In all that time, David resisted social workers’ requests because he felt they were not sincere, that he was just a case number. He resisted until an outreach worker from Project HOME repeatedly sought him out at his place of residence on Benjamin Franklin Parkway, where he lived with two dozen other men, often in refrigerator boxes at night and on the streets during the day.
At Project HOME, David said he found home and he found love with this community. “Whenever they ask me to speak, I jump at it because I am speaking for the 23 people I lost out there,” he said, referring to his fellow homeless people, his friends, who have died.
By spending the day with David and other Project HOME staff members who have experienced hunger and homelessness, Cabrini faculty learned from and begin to develop relationships with people who have lived what we teach about. It is part of what Cabrini faculty do to make “An Education of the Heart” not just something we teach about but what we try to live ourselves.
This experience is part of a three-day immersion experience in which faculty try to deepen our commitment to the University’s Mission and make it more real in our lives. Over the course of a year, a cohort of faculty spend time together in three three-day experiences. In this, the second of three experiences, we try to do what we ask our students to do in ECG 200: go out in the community and learn from those who experience obstacles in life. For this, David was our teacher.
And so in early January, before school began, the cohort came together again for intensive study, discussion, and experiential learning. We slept seven to a room in bunkbeds. We cooked breakfast, lunch, and dinner together. We reflected, prayed, and worked together. At the beginning, because we taught in different departments and worked in different buildings, we sometimes only knew each other in passing. But by the end, we were learning about challenges each of us faces, laughing together, and recognizing each other’s snores.
In addition to the moving encounters with David and other people who were formerly homeless, we took on the SNAP Challenge. SNAP, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps, is a government program that provides low-income people with a small amount of funds to improve nutrition and family security. For the three days, the 14 professors formed into two families. We were allocated $4.40 per person per day for our food budget. Each family had to sit down and discuss its unique needs, taking into account not just food preferences but special dietary restrictions. We then had to plan nutritious meals–breakfast, lunch, and dinner, over the three days.
Our shopping trip to Acme was an exercise in trade-offs. Often nutritious fruits and vegetables had to be put back because they broke our budget. We looked for slightly bruised fresh produce because they were cheaper. Finally, we went through the check out line, coming in almost to the penny of our allotment.
On the last day of our immersion experience at the Aquinas Center in South Philadelphia, we explored the underlying causes of hunger and homelessness and determined how to advocate with our state and federal government for policies that would reduce the conditions we saw. As the 115th Congress begins, Cabrini faculty are preparing to be even more “engaged citizens of the world,” as the university mission statement calls us to be. We determined to exercise our citizenship by advocating for legislation that will benefit our fellow citizens whom we met during these three days.