By S. Regina Kusnir
They are amazing.
They are resilient.
They are wise in ways we never imagined.
They have dreams and aspire to great things.
They see hope in a future still clouded over.
They face obstacles.
They do not cower from challenge.
They gain strength from a higher power.
They are tough and determined.
They are dissatisfied with our impertinence.
They know that we are stronger when we stand together.
They are our youth.
They are our future.
They are our students.
They are life-giving.
They come to us for an education, for knowledge, for the tools to pursue their dreams and meet their aspirations. When we earn their trust, we are permitted to enter into the magnificence of their lives. We may never know the burden they carry nor do we fully understand the circumstances of their lives within a society often presenting challenges greater than any young person should bear. Financial insecurity often finds students and their families bordering on homelessness, a plight potentially hindering educational excellence.
The education of children brought the Sisters of Charity to Cincinnati in 1829. Today they sponsor three diverse educational opportunities in Cincinnati. Each is rich in “risking a caring response” to young people.
Seton High School, in the Price Hill area, has educated young women since 1854. Kathy Allen Ciarla ’87 is the president and knows that Seton lives by its Vision Statement to be: a learning environment in which students will grow and develop into young women who are influenced and guided by Catholic teaching and the mission of the Sisters of Charity. Seton students will be faith-filled women, critical thinkers, and servant leaders prepared to transform the world in which they are destined to live. Seton High School will create and maintain systems and processes to ensure sustainability, while engaging with local and global communities.
The all-female environment encourages leadership and self-confidence. Alumnae send their daughters to Seton as do families from the neighborhood. Seton is a tight-knit community with programs and support services leading young women to personal success.
Mentoring, multiple scholarship options, diverse after-school activities and the Tri-Health Summer Employment Program are among efforts preparing these young women for success and helping to address financial and environmental challenges. Students, faculty, families and the greater community benefit from these well-rounded, well-educated women.
In the tradition of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton and through the mission of the Sisters of Charity, Seton develops a diverse population of young women for a life of faith, service and leadership, and engages them in achieving academic excellence in a college preparatory environment. Leadership opportunities abound at Seton. Kathy says that witnessing the growth in the students is “simply incredible”:
“I see young women enter our doors as shy freshmen and watch them become empowered leaders. We encourage students to use the gifts God gave them to make a difference in our school, community and world. Our student leaders in various clubs, athletic teams and religious retreats work to create meaningful experiences for classmates and learn valuable life lessons along the way. Their creativity and energy help ignite school spirit and promote the Seton Sisterhood, which stays with you for life.
“In addition, students are challenged in the classroom to become critical thinkers and to really learn the material, not just study to pass a test. Our exceptional faculty go above and beyond to use all the resources available to prepare students for college and career.”
DePaul Cristo Rey High School opened its doors in 2011. Paul Ebert has been with DPCR from the beginning, first as an English teacher and since October 2018 as principal. He sees DPCR as the vehicle that is expanding the universe for students. It is the stable place where they are treated well and encouraged to focus on who they are – the launching point for hope, dreaming, wondering and perseverance. He says, “In the grand scheme of things, our students are resilient, they are the unmined gems in society.”
Students have diverse backgrounds, faiths, living situations and support systems. They all have financial challenges. But at DPCR they are a community of youth encouraged to be their best selves, to look challenges in the eye and realize they have people encouraging them to show what they can do.
The Corporate Work Study Program is a door opener. It pairs students with local businesses and organizations where they work one day a week and hold real jobs. The sum DPCR is paid for their services is applied to their tuition. It finds students amazed at the work they can do, the skills they didn’t know they had, the thinking capacity they develop and the relationships built with CEOs and other community leaders. The experience is invaluable on resumes and college applications. All 2020 graduates have been accepted by colleges of choice.
There is a sense of gratitude built into daily routines. Paul and other faculty find that the students are their teachers. They are changed by students as they get to know them and empathically listen to their hearts and aspirations. They offer the psychological space of genuine concern and care. They garner the wisdom of students. And when students seek help, they know that a caring response will be given. As stated in DPCR Belief: Faith is integral to each person’s life. By modeling integrity, faith, tenacity and purpose, we can support our students in achieving their life goals. The students and adults of the DPCR community “dare to risk a caring response” as modeled by St. Vincent de Paul, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, and the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati.
Distance learning has been challenging for students since the community is so important. In light of the racial tensions, DPCR held a virtual listening session. There is much to learn about the diversity among students, about how they do business at school, and above all how to help students to become change agents in the community.
Paul dreams: “In 10 years I hope the world will see our kids as people first. That it would love them as much as we do for who and what they are as people, that all other demographic qualifiers would be secondary and irrelevant. Our Bruins are young men and women of purpose with beautiful gifts to share with the world if it will let them.”
Mount St. Joseph University was established in 1920 and is celebrating its centennial year. Associate Patsy Schwaiger Willig ’73 is director of the Wellness Center and supervises Student Health Services and Student Counseling Services. A Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor, she has worked as a mental health counselor in the center for 25 years. Currently, she splits her time between counseling students and administrative work.
Getting a college degree is an expensive undertaking for any student, but particularly for those with limited resources. At MSJU, faculty advisors and administrative staff who provide support services to students will sometimes encounter students who are struggling financially. In 2018, the University conducted an American College Health Survey to which 263 full-time undergraduate and graduate students responded. Forty-six percent of those students reported concern over finances impacting their academics (48 percent female and 34 percent male).
MSJU has many resources available on campus to meet student needs. These include:
- A Student Resource Center coordinated by a MSJU alum and an Americorp volunteer provides unemployment and benefits assistance, housing, utilities assistance and help with referrals for other services students need on and off campus.
- The Student Care Team holds bi-weekly meetings to address needs of students and provide an opportunity to collaborate with one another to provide appropriate assistance and support to students facing challenges.
- The Dean of Students Office partners with Be Concerned Food Pantry whose director is a Mount Alum. Monthly, a mobile food pantry van travels to MSJU so students can access food from fresh vegetables to staples.
- The Emergency Fund is administered by the Dean of Students and offers financial assistance for rent, utilities, book vouchers, bus passes, food plans, etc.
- Collaboration between the Wellness Center, the Dean of Students Office and the Office of Mission Integration provides referrals to one another for student support.
Patsy states, “The students often bear total financial responsibility for their families. Some are single parents. Some are adult children of parents who may be experiencing unemployment and feel responsible for helping with finances at home in addition to paying for their education. Some students report having to make choices between feeding themselves and/or their families and paying the rent or utilities. Some students, who may live in unsafe environments, may find themselves seeking temporary housing, juggling jobs and academics while doing so.
“MSJU’s motto is from St. Elizabeth Seton: ‘Dare to risk a caring response.’ Everything that we do at the Mount is driven by our mission and our Catholic identity seen through the lens of the Charism of our founders, the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati. Students choose the Mount because we are a community that cares about the whole student. We are a family.”
“Risking a caring response” is a hallmark of the Sisters of Charity and shared in their ministries. The complexity of financial stressors in our society easily leads to youth homelessness and is more predominant in our cities. These sponsored ministries are remarkable. They are amazing graces to students, from students and with students.
DePaul Cristo Rey High School’s Corporate Work Study Program pairs students with local businesses and organizations where they work one day a week and hold real jobs.