By ANDREW NELSON, Staff writer | Published September 23, 2016
ATLANTA—Nathalie Borgella has a passion for “taking care of the poor, the sick, the lowly.”
The political science major at Spelman College, in Atlanta, is channeling her desire into a new service as a Catholic Relief Services student ambassador.
It is important for her to serve people. She knows people outside the campus gates need her voice. Borgella grew up attending St. Lawrence Church, Lawrenceville, and is now a leader at Lyke House, the Catholic Center at the Atlanta University Center.
She hopes struggling people globally know “there are people who care about them, their problems, and want justice for their issues.”
Students at seven colleges in the Atlanta Archdiocese are sharing the church’s message of social justice. From the city campuses of Morehouse and Spelman Colleges to the mountains around the University of North Georgia, in Dahlonega, students will highlight the mission of Catholic Relief Services for justice, peace and human dignity.
For Teresa Nosacek, it is appealing to work with an ethical nonprofit on global issues. Nosacek, a Wisconsin native, is a graduate student at Georgia State University, studying anthropology and archaeology. She worships at Sacred Heart Basilica and at Lyke House. She traveled to rural parts of Mexico to serve at a parish-sponsored clinic and has worked on issues facing Uganda.
She is impressed with CRS’ reputation as a trustworthy organization. According to Charity Navigator, 92.7 percent of CRS’ total expenses are spent on the programs and services it delivers.
“They are definitely one of the organizations that really helps the people. You know the money is going to the people,” Nosacek said.
Students at more than 80 campuses participate as ambassadors. The University of Georgia outreach is entering its third year. Emory University is starting the second year of promoting justice and charity with ambassadors. Catholic Relief Services is building relationships with Catholics at historically black colleges and universities like the Atlanta University Center institutions. Previously, only students at one historically black college, Xavier University of Louisiana, New Orleans, had been involved as ambassadors.
On the campuses, CRS is making connections with the so-called “nones,” the increasing number of young adults who don’t identify with any religion.
“We know they really care about social justice and service. We are connecting them with the mission of the church. That’s an important role CRS can play,” said Kim Lamberty, director of university and mission engagement at CRS, about strengthening students’ Catholic identity.
CRS is looking into studying what participation as an ambassador means to students’ faith life after graduation. For now, organizers hope that students leave college influenced by the work of CRS and their faith is shaped by the social justice mission.
Said Lamberty, “They understand this faith as a faith that does justice.”
Helping others is humanitarian
For Society of the Divine Word Father Urey Mark, seeing CRS active on the Atlanta University Center campuses is personal. A native of Liberia who is now chaplain to students at Atlanta’s historically black colleges and universities and at Georgia State University, he and his family survived his country’s seven-year civil war in the 1990s. He said Catholic Relief Services was one of the early humanitarian organizations to return to the country in West Africa to deliver rice, beans and other necessities.
“The church became a beacon of hope because the parishes became distribution centers,” he said.
This work done by the students cuts across questions of faith, no faith, or denominational lines, he said.
“It reaches to the core of humanity. It touches life worldwide,” he said.
Students are exposed to global issues and learn how they can contribute to the common good. They spread the word about Catholic social teaching with awareness campaigns, candlelight vigils, advocacy work and fundraising.
Lamberty said student leaders shape their efforts to what is best for their campuses. CRS has resources for its “I am” campaign, targeting climate change, migration and refugees, and human trafficking. All are priorities set by U.S. Catholic bishops, she said.
“This is really a great way to reach everyone,” said Blair Ely, a leader of the student ambassador program at Emory University.
Emory student ambassadors hosted Fair Trade sales, raised money during Lent, and to illustrate the global food crisis, organized a hunger banquet where guests randomly were selected to eat the meal of the well-off, the middle class, or the impoverished.
“These tools allow you to stand up for justice around the world,” said Ely.
Students from Clark Atlanta University, Spelman College and Morehouse College and Georgia State University were trained at Lyke House on Thursday, Sept. 15. They received a crash course in how CRS responded to recent natural disasters, in addition to longer-term justice projects like a home for teenaged girls fleeing arranged marriages where the girls receive an education as a step out of poverty.
Michael Trujillo, who works for CRS in the Southeast, said to the college students, “I want you to feel inspired because you can do something.”