Peace Corps Association leader speaks to "kindred spirits"

"Once you give a gift, it's yours forever." Those words from Kevin Quigley, head of the National Peace Corps Association, surely resonated with the audience at the awards ceremony last week of the Catholic Institute for Lasallian Social Action (CILSA) at Saint Mary's College, which honored three members of the SMC community and the head of Catholic Charities of the East Bay for giving back to the world.

Before the awards ceremony, CILSA director Marshall Welch welcomed Quigley, this year's Woodrow Wilson Visiting Fellow, who told the audience about plans for the Peace Corps 50th anniversary on March 1 and commended the honorees for their commitment to service.

"I feel like I'm among kindred spirits," said Quigley, who has devoted his life to service since his years as a Peace Corps worker in Thailand.

Throughout the ceremony, the presenters referred to the words (in italics below) of Dorothy Day, co-founder of the Catholic Worker Movement and a champion of the poor and homeless.

"The greatest challenge of the day is: how do we bring about a revolution of the heart, a revolution that starts with each one of us."

Sharon Sobotta, director of the Women's Resource Center, received the Engaged Staff Award. In presenting it, Ryan Lamberton, CILSA's community engagement coordinator, said Sobotta "has a huge heart, and she has played a huge role in leading a revolution for the rights of women here on campus and in the community."

He said Sobotta, who is the author of "The Journey of Life: 100 Lessons from Around the World" and a contributor to KPFA and numerous magazines, believes that "everyone has a story worth sharing, and her mission is to give voice to people from every walk of life."

"We need always to be thinking and writing about poverty, for if we are not among its victims, its reality fades from us."

The Engaged Faculty Award went to Professor Shawny Anderson. CILSA Associate Director Jennifer Pigza, who introduced her, said she was nominated by one of the students who went to New Orleans and participated in Hurricane Katrina relief work as part of a January Term course led by Anderson.

In her nomination letter, the student wrote: "We were all pushed to new extremes on that trip, and our eyes were opened. We learned about community, poverty, compassion, racism, hard work, simplicity, and inequalities."

Accepting the award, Anderson said her approach to life is: "We can do something, so let's do it." And she credited her students for the honor, saying, "If I'm a good professor, it's because of you."

"We can throw our pebble in the pond and be confident that its ever-widening circle will reach around the world."

The Community Partner award was presented to Solomon Belette, executive director of Catholic Charities of the East Bay. Beth Hampson, CILSA Community Partnerships Coord inator, said Belette has "made a huge ripple effect on the lives of many."

A colleague who nominated Belette said his work exemplified CILSA's "head, heart and hands" motto and noted that his heart guides him to work with volunteers, including CILSA students, to "make sure they understand the deeper meaning and importance of the work they are doing."

Belette said he has been "impressed with the commitment to social service of SMC students" he has worked with, and he thanked them for their work on a number of projects, including the Family Literacy Program and the diocese's housing programs.

"Young people ask: What is the sense of our small effort? They cannot see that we must lay one brick at a time, take one step at a time..."

Andres Rodolfo Aguilar received the student award. Alicia Torres, site manager for CILSA's Jumpstart program, which coordinates student service to preschool children, said Aguilar "is a young man who has laid one brick at a time and taken one step at a time to make a difference in the lives of others."

Aguilar has been a Jumpstart leader and helped to lead Saturday of Service volunteer projects. He also played a role in the "Our Struggle Is Tied With Yours" coalition in 2010 and shaped the direction of the La Hermandad club, which supports Latino and Chicano culture on campus.

Accepting his award, Aguilar said he had found a new direction and a welcoming community in Saint Mary's since his sophomore year, when friends "introduced him to the concept of social justice" and added, "It has changed my life."

Teresa Castle
College Communications

Photos by Gabrielle Diaz '11

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