For the second consecutive year, Marie Conn, Ph.D., professor of religious studies, and Ryan Murphy, director of service-learning, co-taught the course called Heart of the City this fall. The six-credit service-learning course focuses on urban poverty and provides an examination of this complex issue through both theological and sociological lenses. Students met once a week to discuss readings and learn from guest speakers, experts in the fields of social justice and poverty.
They spent time each week working at One Less Foundation in Philadelphia’s Germantown neighborhood, with people trying to get out of poverty. Although most of their work was office work — helping with organizational tasks and recordkeeping — they realize that all efforts to help the small staff at the nonprofit are worthwhile.
“Sometimes helping a nonprofit means sitting at a computer,” says Conn. “It’s all valuable.”
“We did help to organize a forum on the dangers of payday loans,” says Morgan Ruth ’18, and although few participants showed up, the students learned a lot about the threatening cycle of debt that those types of loans really present to those who take advantage of them.
The group also traveled to Washington, D.C., where they met with representatives from NETWORK, the Catholic social justice lobbying group that educates, organizes and lobbies for economic and social justice. They attended a workshop to learn the basics of lobbying and did some role-play to get in the spirit. Then they met with staff members from the offices of Pennsylvania’s senators Bob Casey and Pat Toomey, where they got to put their newfound skills into practice.
This year, the students learned about the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), a refundable tax credit for low- to moderate-income working individuals and couples, especially those with children, and lobbied the senators to expand the ETIC so that people from age 21 to 26, with or without children, would be eligible, as would those aged 26 and older with or without children. In its current form, EITC is available only to people beginning at age 26, and only if there are children in the house.
“Learning about this made it personal,” says Anthony Walter ’17, another member of the class. “I didn’t realize that the EITC affected me.”
Although the students admit to feeling nervous prior to the meetings, once they got started, they were confident and learned a lot.
“Students should take this course,” says Ruth, a criminal justice and psychology major. “I never knew how bad poverty is in this area until taking the class, and I felt like we were actually helping.”
— Brenda Lange