La Salle Stays True to Mission

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La Salle University, founded over 150 years ago, has a colorful history of charity and education. The mission declared by Saint John Baptiste de la Salle still holds true today, even outside the walls.

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Screen grab from Philadelphia Inquirer Crime Database

La Salle is situated in one of Philadelphia’s most troubled neighborhoods. The unemployment rate, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer, averaged at about 19% over the past four years. An astounding amount of residents live without a high school degree. These troubling numbers, as well as the crime stats, make the area less than enticing for larger businesses. Why risk building a super shopping center in an area so risky?

Well, luckily for residents of the surrounding community, La Salle took a stand against hunger and inappropriate food options. They persuaded grocery giant, Fresh Grocer, to set up shop on their land along Wister and Olney Avenue. The university did not stop there. To stay true to their calling, students and faculty decided volunteering at soup kitchens was not enough. Together, they formed Exploring Nutrition- the organization that has dominated the posts on this site for the past five months.

Exploring Nutrition is something truly spectacular. It’s bridging the gap between the community and the college, something that isn’t exactly common in the Delaware Valley. La Salle understands that the more it brings life to the neighborhood, the nicer the school will look from the outside. But it’s more than image and marketability, La Salle is dedicated to helping those less fortunate. Check out the video below for testimonials from students and community members!

One of the main events highlighted in the video is the Easter Food Drive. Exploring Nutrition, back by students in the Leadership and Global Understanding Program, load hundreds of bags of fresh produce donated by Fresh Grocer. They volunteer over the weekend and deliver the food to food pantries in the area in hopes of bringing families together around delicious food for the celebrating of the Easter Holiday. Below are the locations the food was donated to and redistributed.

In 2010, the term “food desert” began to enter American lexicon thanks to First Lady Michelle Obama. Her main goal during her service to the country has been to lower obesity rates by curing the food desert issue and encouraging kids to get active. Although, there was a study conducted in Philadelphia that begs to differ with the First Lady.

Though La Salle is not directly involved in fighting obesity through exercise and activity, the Environmental Community of Olney is hoping to encourage neighborhood youth to get involved with the community garden. The goal is to encourage kids to actively take part in their diet and health and to finally understand how food affects mood and energy, which contribute greatly to academic performance. An added bonus- an hour of gardening burns significant calories, especially if you garden in a specific way to tone those glutes! Through gardening, the coordinators of the service group hope the community members take pride in the project and in watching food grow from seed to plate. The organization does not have any plans to hold education classes and workshops to coincide with the garden project just yet, but they are hoping to tack on education to their list of offerings.

Because of the Catholic tradition of service and Saint John Baptiste de La Salle’s dedication to educating the underprivileged and less fortunate, La Salle as a whole strongly encourages its students to partake in volunteer groups. ECO is one of the newest organizations on campus. It officially kicked off last year, but is quickly becoming a favorite amongst students looking to give back. Also new to the list of service groups is Camden Experience. This immersion service trip was created this year and is embarking on their first mission next Sunday. Students accepted to the trip will live across the bridge in New Jersey for a week volunteering across the city and educating residents about the importance of environmental sustenance and finding more ways to include fresh produce in their daily lives.

The Blogger’s Take:
I’m graduating La Salle in just over a week and I am one of the few who never really participated in service while here. All of my friends enrolled in service trips and participated in organizations that worked to improve the lives of many across the region. If I could change anything about my time here at La Salle, I would have gotten involved early on and stuck with it. By the time I got my school work under control and my major-based extracurriculars down pat, I was too engrossed to consider anything else. I did get accepted to a service trip- Volunteers in Mission- but had to drop when I was hired at an intern for the Sochi Olympics. It was a bittersweet decision. I will say, though, that my lack of involvement on campus has inspired me to look for ways to help within my skill set. I created a documentary about a local non-profit Red Paw that is played on La Salle TV and have supported them through social media interaction. And, it may be a reach, but I feel like journalism is a form of service. I am required to go into the community and speak to residents, learn about them, and give them a more public voice where their opinions can be heard and possibly even addressed. It’s small, I know, but I’m going to try to keep the La Salle mission in my mind as I go off into the real world. Finally, I’ll have my weekends will be free, so maybe I’ll forget about myself for a second and go out and volunteer at a soup kitchen.