GREEN BAY — St. Norbert College students Natalie Bradish and Leah Jobe are thankful to serve as community organizers for the Norman Miller Center for Peace, Justice and Understanding.
“We have the best jobs in the world,” said Bradish, who is from Appleton. “We help out with organizing events. We recently had Las Cafeteras (a Los Angeles-based band that uses music to bridge cultures). We help plan, coordinate schedules, meet them, take them where they need to be and help set up.”
While much of the mission of the center — to cultivate “awareness, compassion and commitment to justice and the building of sustainable peace” — involves events and initiatives on campus, the staff welcomes opportunities to serve the greater community.
This year, Bradish and Jobe took on a project through a partnership with the Quad Parishes (Annunciation, St. Jude, St. Joseph and St. Patrick) on Green Bay’s west side. In October, they launched a series of presentations on Catholic social teaching, held in the chapel at St. Joseph Church. The first session addressed “Climate Change and Its Effects on Immigration.” The November presentation tackled “Immigration Laws.”
The idea for the project originated last winter when the Norman Miller Center was approached by a representative from the Quad Parishes, explained Bob Pyne, senior director of the center. He consulted with a leadership team from the parishes about ways to promote justice work in the community.
“Deacon Jerry (Coenen) was at the meeting and he and I met again a few weeks later,” said Pyne. “He told me about his desire to host a series of talks on social justice and Catholic social teaching, potentially aimed at seniors in the community.
“Several of our student community organizers at the Norman Miller Center took ownership of the idea from there,” he added. “They have chosen the topics and developed the presentations on their own. We are proud of them and happy that the program has taken off.”
The students did research for the presentations. At the November session, Jobe, who is from Tigerton, covered President Donald Trump’s executive orders that focus on border security. She provided numerous statistics and sources. For example, Jobe broke down the number of border agents called for by President Trump. He signed an order for an additional 5,000 agents. That would bring the total to approximately 25,000.
Jobe also shared statistics about the proposed border wall, which would serve as a U.S.-Mexico barrier. She provided information from sources indicating that 650 miles of fencing is currently on the border. That leaves 1,300 open miles.
Jobe showed a video as part of the presentation about how some of the rugged terrain in south Texas, featuring cliffs as high as 1,000 feet, creates a natural border and would provide a construction challenge in that region.
Bradish provided information about life in countries that are southern neighbors to the U.S. and the rise in immigration. She once visited Guatemala for five weeks through a program offered by the college.
To demonstrate the growth in immigration, Bradish shared that there were less than 1 million Latin American-born U.S. residents in 1960. In 2010, that number had climbed to 19 million. She spoke about “push factors” driving migration, including poverty, violence and discrimination.
“Latin America’s homicide rate is three times that of the global average,” she said. “In Mexico and Venezuela, half of the citizens reported experiencing a violent crime in the last year.”
Deacon Coenen helps facilitate the sessions. He served in both Texas and California and started a mission in Mexico. He helped with the development of schools, but the children in the community were not required to attend.
“Those kids don’t have to go to school,” he said. “There were 1,000 families. They were not educated and didn’t have jobs. If they got a job it was usually for $5 a day. That was the going wage. Drinking water in Mexico is still $1.50 a bottle even if you make $5 a day. They would drink clean water, but they would have trucks of dirty water come in so they could bathe and do the dishes. It breeds sickness.”
Deacon Coenen added that the people would rather stay with their families than migrate to other countries if they could live safe and healthy lives.
“It’s hard,’ he said. “I think as Catholics, we have to realize that they are our brothers and sisters. What can we do besides pray? We are trying to help. I thank these two young people for their research. It’s up for us as a community to react in the right way.”
Bradish, a biology major, is graduating at semester. Jobe, a psychology and communications major, will continue the presentations in 2020 with another staff member from the Norman Miller Center.
“I want them to gain confidence in their knowledge and presentation skills,” said Pyne, “and I want them to have fun working together for a good cause alongside community members. We always say that our service programs should create positive change in the community, create positive change in the student participants and bring that change back to campus for the rest of us to enjoy.”
“It is really good to formulate our own information and develop our skills speaking in front of people,” said Bradish. “We are still learning. This helps us.”