CILSA Awards Honor Four Leaders Who Put Social Justice into Action

Award winnersThe Catholic Institute for Lasallian Social Action (CILSA) honored four outstanding individuals last week in its Third Annual CILSA Awards Ceremony, which recognizes and celebrates the outstanding work of a student, faculty member, staff member and community partner who are committed to social action. 

“These individuals go above and beyond what is expected of them,” said CILSA Director Marshall Welch said at the ceremony in Hagerty Lounge, which was attended by more than 50 people. “They are leaders and agents of change. They are an inspiration to all of us.”

The awards went to:

Grants Officer Joan Crook, CILSA Engaged Saint Mary’s College Staff Award

Crook, who was nominated by CILSA Jumpstart Manager Alicia Torres, was recognized for her leadership, advocacy and service with Children’s Hospital of Oakland. Last year, she helped establish the Family Advisory Council at the hospital, and she continues to serve as co-chair of the council, which is made up of parents with children who have special needs. She also assists low-income, Spanish-speaking families with children on Medi-Cal who have disabilities.

“One thing I learned first-hand is that children who are critically ill are from all walks of life,” Crooks said at the ceremony, which was attended by her husband, parents and children, Alex and Amy. “It does not matter if their parents’ income is high or low, what ethnicity, culture, language, neighborhood, religion, family structure, resources – critical illness in children is nondiscriminatory.”

Sociology Professor Cynthia Ganote, CILSA Engaged Teaching Award

CILSA Associate Director Jennifer Pigza described Ganote as a “shining example of the College's ‘commitment to the poor and concern for social justice,’” citing her work as a teacher, including courses in Race and Ethnicity, Gender, and Social Problems, and her leadership in “campus consciousness-raising.” She was also lauded for her work on the Core Curriculum Committee and her outreach to the Christian Brothers’ schools in Sri Lanka.

Ganote, who was accompanied by students from her Jan Term “virtual immersion in Sri Lanka” course, thanked CILSA, her students and her faculty colleagues for allowing her to express her “passion for learning and for watching students grow” and “providing a space in academia where you can connect with others to try to work on community-based models of learning.” And she expressed gratefulness for the opportunity to help students see that “their commitment to global citizenship is the greatest reward.”

Sandra Scherer, CILSA Community Partner Award                                            

Scherer is the founding CEO of the Monument Crisis Center, which provides food, education, assistance and referrals to families and individuals in crisis and promotes community awareness of needs of low-income individuals in Contra Costa County.

The crisis center has nurtured a unique partnership with Saint Mary’s. Many undergraduates and teaching credential candidates have served internships there, and many SMC groups have donated food and hours of service to the center. Scherer acknowledged the SMC connection, saying, “The real reason the Monument Crisis Center is such a success is that more than half of the staff members are Gaels!”

Beth Hampson, CILSA community partnerships coordinator, read from the nomination for Scherer, which praised her for the “passion and empowerment of employees and clients” at the center. “The success and energy you will see and feel at the center is a direct result of Sandra’s ongoing commitment, dedication and enthusiasm.”

Selam Kidane, CILSA Engaged Student Award 

Ryan Lamberton, who coordinates CILSA’s Bonner Leaders program, praised Kidane as “a leader with an amazing character who stands for social justice.”

Kidane has served as a Bonner Leader and engaged learning facilitator (ELF). She organized a 24-hour immersion experience in West Oakland to examine the intersection of poverty, race and health, and she is also active with campus Mission & Ministry and as a member of the Seminar Governing Board.

Kidane delivered a moving acceptance speech in which she dedicated to her parents, who were social justice advocates and worked to rebuild her family’s native country of Eritrea after it won its struggle for independence from neighboring Ethiopia.

“I saw the importance of providing a helping hand, the importance of advocating for the voiceless, the vitality of doing what you can to make change,” she said, and she asked herself, “What can I do? How can I help?” She credited CILSA and her sociology professors with helping her find her voice.

She ended with a quote from Martin Luther King Jr.: “True peace is not merely the absence of tension: it is the presence of justice.” The presence of justice in our society, promotes equality and at the end of the day it shows us something we constantly forget, our humanity.”

By Teresa Castle
Office of College Communications

View a photo gallery of the award winners and the ceremony.

Photos by Teresa Castle