The history of Poverty Education Week at St. John’s

Poverty Education is a long-standing St. John’s tradition that strives to teach students to empathize with those affected by poverty. Every year, students take part in a poverty-focused lesson in each of their classes and other events so that they better understand what others go through and feel inspired to make a difference.

The idea to address poverty within our school community began in 2000 with a request from the Superior General of the Christian Brothers. He challenged Lasallian schools around the world to put more emphasis on our mission of service to the poor. In response, St. John’s founded the San Miguel School for young Hispanic boys that is now fully independent.

St. John’s President Mr. Mancabelli said, “That was our initial big picture response and then throughout the course of a couple of years we started looking at what we could do within our own school community.”

St. John’s had heard of other Lasallian schools teaching poverty education and felt that we could do this very successfully. Thirteen years ago, the Mission and Ministry Department decided that SJC should teach about poverty more directly in our curriculum and Poverty Education Week was formed. It is a chance for everyone within the school community, faculty and students, to evaluate how we can make an impact and change poverty by better understanding what it is. Although it has changed significantly over the years, the purpose of this week has remained the same.

Mr. Mancabelli said, “The big goal is not simply just doing service but it’s actually to change poverty. It’s to open our eyes to the fact that we have to eradicate it. We have to as individuals do our part and I think Poverty Education if anything brings awareness to everybody in our community about what is possible. What you as one individual can do to make a difference.”

The week did not originally feature the Hunger Banquet that forces students to experience what it is like to not have the luxury of a complete meal. Over time, SJC’s Poverty Education Week also began to feature more young alumni speakers who have chosen jobs in which they serve the poor.

Mr. Mancabelli said, “I think adding the human element helped students see that you don’t have to be donating millions of dollars to reduce poverty. I think the transition of our Hunger Banquet to a Technology Hunger Banquet shows adaptability to the current reality. I think as we continue to make those connections, it helps this generation of students understand what it means to go without.”

While many students and staff were fully virtual this Poverty Education Week, the spirit of the week stayed. Poverty Education Week has always been about making connections with those who are marginalized, an idea that is more important than ever this year.

Mr. Mancabelli said, “I think it’s got to be the energy behind making sure we’re continuing the message of even though we are distanced, these are things you can be doing to help other people.”

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