Inner city experience shatters stereotypes, prejudices

February 9, 2017

By Ed Byrne

The Brillion News

DE PERE – Two seniors at St. Norbert College skipped the usual winter break rest and relaxation and headed out of their comfort zones and into the inner city environs of Philadelphia and Chicago.

Bailey Bushman, who grew up in the Hilbert-Stockbridge area and graduated from Stockbridge High School, went to Philadelphia and spent a week on the volunteer staff at Our Brothers’ Place, a shelter for 300 homeless men.

Aaron Van Eperen, a Wrightstown High graduate, spent a week at Saint Benedict the African Catholic School, on Chicago’s south side.

“This was something I wanted to do for quite some time,” Van Eperen said. “But I never had the opportunity until this year.”

Bushman also wanted to go on a service trip through the TRIPS (Turning Responsibility Into Powerful Service) program at St. Norbert College (SNC). But this was the first year that things fell into place.

“I’m really interested in poverty and homelessness, but it had nothing to do with what I’ve been studying,” she said. “I wanted to connect with something bigger than myself.”

Bushman stayed at the Norbertines’ Daylesford Abbey in Paoli, Penn., and Van Eperen’s group stayed at the Amate House in Chicago.

Both ventures had a spiritual element, and Bushman said her experience was one of spiritual growth.

“I was able to really connect the service I was doing in the day to the reflections I was having and my time alone at night,” Bushman said.

Bushman worked at the shelter for four days and, by the end of it, wished she could have stayed longer.

Most of her work, at first, was manual labor – cleaning up a parking lot, cleaning rooms, organizing the donation room.

“Around lunchtime, we had an education session with the social workers and case managers, and in the afternoon we got to interact with the people staying at the shelter,” Bushman said. “You have to be 18 or older, and you have to be male. I knew it was going to push me out of my comfort zone to talk to adult men all day.”

It turned out to be positive in every respect.

“I enjoyed the opportunity to hear their stories … to sit down and talk about the struggles they were going through,” Bushman said.

Van Eperen found himself in one of the worst of Chicago’s many violent inner city “ghetto” neighborhoods.

“It’s in the most violent, most dangerous neighborhoods on the south side of Chicago,” Van Eperen said. “We helped there every day.”

Twelve hour days at St. Benedict the African School were the norm. Each of the SNC volunteers worked as teachers’ aides in classrooms or tutoring students one-on-one.

Many of the students come from poor families, and on Friday afternoon, the poorest kids are given bags of food “so they’d have something to eat over the weekend.”

The volunteers also helped with the after-school program that gave the students a safe place to be until they went home.

Please see the complete story in the February 9, 2017 edition of The Brillion News. 

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