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Taking refuge in service

Campus Life

Taking refuge in service

Students on Gannon University’s campus are putting together a clothing drive to help support the Refugee Resettlement Project, part of Catholic Charities Counseling and Adoption Services in Erie, Pennsylvania. The project is a result of Professor Mark Blair’s leadership seminar class. He is very excited to see it come into fruition, especially because he simply oversees the project.

“This is the first semester I have taught this course,” Blair said. “The curriculum is designed to incorporate a student-led project.”

The only problem students foresee for the project is what everyone struggles with nowadays — time.

“The time frame of this particular project is extremely constrained,” Blair mentioned. “So much of the early portion of this course is what I like to call OJT — On the Job Training.”

Students are handling every aspect of this course, from making posters to collecting and sorting the clothes they receive. They have even set up an Amazon Prime account where people can order clothes online and have them delivered straight to Gannon.

If this all sounds a little challenging, that’s because it is. However, after hearing the story of how the project came to start, it sounds like challenge is nothing new to this class.

“The Computer and Information Science department on campus has a relationship with Catholic Charities Counseling and Adoption Services,” Blair said. “When the course began, the class was asked by faculty of the CIS department to take on the project. It sounded like a challenge, so we jumped on top of it.”

Since then, the class has made contact with the charity group, and even received a presentation from Nandu Subedi, a team leader of the Erie Branch of the Refugee Resettlement project. Subedi informed the students of how their good deed would be impacting others. The students were very receptive to Subedi, and are now even more fired up for the project.

In terms of facilitating the project, Professor Blair has not had to do a lot, though he has the training to step in and make decisions, or even demands, if needed.

“Without doubt, my leadership style and methods are most influenced by my time in the United States Marine Corps,” Blair said. “I believe good leaders distribute authority to their workers; hold them accountable for their charges, making sure they feel the glory of success and the sting of failure while always being ready the rescue them when they inevitably need guidance through a tough situation.”

This is also a charity that needs a significant amount of help. According to Joe Haas, executive director of CCCAS, there were roughly 240 refugees located in Erie in fiscal year 2014. These refugees span multiple countries in the Middle East, including Bhutan, Iraq, and Somalia. Each of these refugees has to go through a lengthy process of receiving basic living amenities, learning some of the basic cultural aspects of the U.S., and eventually becoming a full-fledged citizen. It’s a process that lasts roughly five years beginning to end, and requires much support from the local community. Thankfully for the refugees of Erie County, they have received a lot of support in the past and are always very grateful.

“The warm clothing drive is a wonderful way for the members of the Gannon community to respond to the challenge of Matthew 25, which states ‘I was a stranger and you welcomed me,’” Joe Haas said. “Our refugees are truly appreciative of not only the clothing items, but the thought and effort that went into collecting them and distributing them. This is a wonderful example of welcoming the refugees to the Erie community.”

The project is now well underway, and everyone involved is excited, especially Professor Blair.

“I hope the Erie Community gets to see the Gannon I see,” said Blair. “There is no reward for them to do more than the minimum, yet they have attacked this challenge with veracity and sincerity that cannot be faked.”

The drive will begin in February, and run through the month of March. Donations are always appreciated, and the focus of this drive is clothing of various sizes. You can follow this link to purchase items for refugees in need on Amazon.

The greatest part of this project is that it is one of the many similar projects occurring around campus to help those in need in the Erie area. Gannon has always valued spirit of selflessness, and Professor Blair sums it up perfectly:

“I guess this is what you should expect from a University whose students walk around wearing shirts that simply say ‘GIVE.’”

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