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Monday, May 05, 2008

UB story: Benedictine seniors helping to end violence against women

Here's my latest feature in Friday's Catholic Universe Bulletin:

Benedictine seniors helping to end violence against women of the world
Senior Honors Theology project transforms beyond a graded effort; it’s now become an educational, social justice and charitable mission for change.
By Wendy A. Hoke

Spring sunshine is seeping into the windows at Benedictine High School where Senior Nathan Szabados is leading a discussion on the senior project. “We’re going to be planting a garden at Transitional Housing on West 25th Street,” he tells his classmates.

“Wednesday we need to make a meal for 50 people for Ronald McDonald House Meals the Heal,” he says. “We’re going to St. Ann’s to talk at the Masses, but I need someone to go to St. Gregory’s to talk about the project,” he says.

Szabados double-checks his list and then the group of about 25 breaks into small groups to tackle their assigned tasks.

What started as a senior project, something required for a grade, has morphed into a mission—to stop the cycle of violence against women. “Men of Benedictine Helping Women of the World” is their third-quarter senior project for Senior Honors Theology class.

“We did research and found that 50 percent of the area’s homeless are women and children affected by domestic violence,” says Jason Petroff. “It takes men to stop the violence.”

That an all-boys school is taking on the issue of domestic violence against women came as something of a surprise to area women’s shelters, says Szabados.

But they are passionate in their cause.

“This is one of those issues that doesn’t come up in society,” says Peter Barrett. “But not only does it affect the person who is abused, it also has a trickle-down affect for family and friends.”

When asked if any of the boys know someone who has been the victim of domestic violence, several nod solemnly. Beyond families, however, they also acknowledge the importance of discussing the issue with teens who may find themselves in abusive relationships.

“We’ve shared a lot of information,” says Barrett. “Nathan and I went to Regina High School and gave our presentation to five different classes. We also sold tickets to our benefit concert,” he says.

The concert, held March 16 at The Grog Shop in Cleveland Heights, featured bands with Benedictine students and benefited the group’s project to the tune of $1,400.

“It was a forum to raise awareness,” says Barrett. Education is one part of the project.

Another is charity. Szabados contacted shelters to find ways to help, and so they are providing food and items needed to help the women.

“That’s the closest we can get to the root of the problem here,” says Barrett. But they are finding ways to use their time, too.

“Nathan has done a good job of identifying where we can go out and help to cook a meal or plant a garden,” says Petroff.

Of the money raised, 40 percent goes toward battered women’s shelters. The remaining 60 percent will be donated to a micro-financing Web site called Kiva “The site allows for loans to people in third-world countries that are paid back with low interest,” explains Riley Smith.

On a Mother’s Day Luncheon on May 4th, $1,500 of the $2,500 raised so far will be given to the moms, sisters, grandmothers and girlfriends of the boys to invest in the Kiva entrepreneur of their choosing right from the luncheon via three computers.

“We’re trying to get women who are important to us choose who they want the money to go to,” says Szabados.

There’s a symbolic purpose to this, say the boys. The money was donated to on a local level and will partially be used to support local battered women’s shelters. But it also is being channeled into supporting women of the world to become more financially self-sufficient.

“They can see their money making a difference and hopefully that will inspire them to keep going with this effort, not just in school but also beyond that,” says Stephan Dober.

Indeed, the boys would like to broaden the project to make sure it continues with younger grades and to reach out to parent and alumni groups.

“The project started as something we were doing for a grade,” says Petroff. “But after a while it stopped being about that and now we’re just doing it because we want to.”

“I realized there are different ways to help people,” says Szabados. “It’s not just about putting in time, but also spreading the word,” which he has done through the Catholic Schools for Peace and Justice, news media, masses and parent networks.

“I’m learning more about this issue as I’m forced to write about it to share in our presentations,” he says. “It’s not just a class now, it’s an organization.”

To donate to Benedictine High School Love Fund, call (216) 641-7053. You can drop of nonperishable foods, paper products or gift cards at Benedictine High School, 2900 Martin Luther King Jr. Drive. Or you can visit
Word of the day
vellum: a fine-grained unsplit lambskin, kidskin, or calfskin prepared especially for writing on or for binding books


Thora said...

Glad to find your site.There is always someone we can help.

Thora said...

Hi I thought you may like to join in with other bloggers in a game of tag.I have tagged you to share random thoughts about yourself.
I am new to this blogging and hope you will like to join in and share with others.I am enjoying your words and thoughts.I think I may journal about some of my favourite clothes in my younger days.So much to reflect on.

NEOcreativegenius said...

Great article, and congratulations on your SPJ Distinguished Service award!

Michelle O'Neil said...

So much beauty in this! To put young men in a position to honor women restores them to their natural state.

I love that the women in their lives get to pick where the money goes. It is so respectful.

I feel heartened after reading this post.

Wendy Hoke said...

Thank you for visiting from Down Under, Thora.

Wendy Hoke said...

Thanks for your good wishes on the SPJ award and thanks for visiting CI.

Wendy Hoke said...

Your thoughts are beautiful, Michelle. Thank you so much for sharing.