Our Casa Alums
Allison & Patrick Reynolds-Berry
Spring '04/ Spring '07
We met as undergrads at Loyola University Chicago where Allison studied psychology and Patrick studied political science and international studies. Originally from Naperville, IL, Allison studied at the Casa in the spring of 2005 and returned as a Community Coordinator for the 2006-2007 school year. Patrick is originally from Cincinnati, OH, where we now call home. He studied abroad at the Casa in the spring of 2007.
Allison was introduced to the Casa through an immersion trip to El Salvador and had the opportunity to meet current students and staff who left no question in her mind that the Casa was where she was supposed to be. This was an exciting opportunity to deeply learn about people, politics, and the ways we are all connected. Living in community and processing the experience with peers, who would become lifelong friends, was critical and continues to be treasured. Listening to the stories of families who were torn apart by war or migration and the resilience of the human spirit motivated her to return to volunteer with the Casa after graduation. That year guided her to learn more about the collective power of community and lead her to Boston College’s Graduate School of Social Work. Allison spent five years working as a Community Organizer for REACH Beyond Domestic Violence in Waltham, MA, collaborating with Spanish and English speakers to prevent domestic violence at the community level. She now works as the Executive Director of the Intercommunity Justice and Peace Center in Cincinnati, challenging unjust systems and promoting a non-violent society.
After Allison returned from her semester with the Casa she greatly influenced Patrick’s decision to study there. Her passion and excitement for El Salvador were contagious. As a political science and international studies major, the Casa was a perfect fit him. Patrick remembers feeling academically and emotionally challenged by his courses. This was also his first real encounter with poverty in the developing world and he was often left feeling overwhelmed and challenged by the daunting realities of life for so many in El Salvador – so many he had come to call friends. He grew to love his community mates and the Salvadorans he lived with and worked alongside of in Tepecoyo. After graduating from Loyola he spent two years in Nicaragua with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps. This experience was deeply important to him and probably would never have happened if not for the Casa. His time in El Salvador lead him to Nicaragua and that experience, in turn, propelled him back to school. Patrick moved to Boston to pursue a dual master degree from Boston College in pastoral ministry and clinical social work. Patrick currently works for Catholic Charities of Southwestern Ohio as a bilingual mental health therapist. His experience of living and working in Central America continues to provide unique knowledge, context, and a cultural lens used daily in his work.
Without hesitation we would recommend studying at the Casa. Its unique and distinctive approach of integrating academics with intentionality, accompaniment, and solidarity are hard to find in most other study abroad programs. Allison greatly valued the opportunity to listen to the personal stories of Salvadorans and the importance of sharing a public narrative. Listening inherently requires that we take a step back, recognize that we do not have all the answers and that we need each other. Patrick remembers learning to just be with people, to practice accompaniment as a means for change and justice. We both continually strive to live lives of solidarity through the careers we have chosen, the relationships we foster, and the desire to keep listening to others.
Nick Leydon (Fall '01)
Executive Director, Kaizen Promotion Office
Healthcare is our common denominator. We all are born. We all get sick. We all die.
The latest stop in my career journey has brought me to a pair of challenged community hospitals in my native state – Massachusetts. My work is to lead transformational hospital change so we can close the gap between the science we know and the care we currently deliver. Our hospitals are full of smart, talented, dedicated staff who understand the science. However, the complexities of technology, medicine, insurance, and finance often provide substandard care that scares patients (and their families) when they are most vulnerable. We can do better.
While studying political science at Boston College, international affairs were often framed in the shadow of the Cold War. In that context, El Salvador was a perfect place to learn from communities that were rebuilding and growing after decades of economic and political war. But at the Casa in the Fall of 2001, the conversation shifted to global terrorism. While it was interesting to follow the sea change, I felt that human rights, specifically the common denominator of health, were my passion.
Since that time I’ve worked in grassroots political organizing, non-profit management, operations research and healthcare consulting. All of these jobs have focused on large-scale change and I’m always sensitive to how we’re directly improving the health for those who would otherwise not receive proper care.
The Casa was a transformative experience for me. In fact, it was one of the most thought-provoking and reflective periods of my life. Without a doubt, it was the most important single decision in college.
Healthcare is a common denominator. And I wish there were a few more experiences in that denominator. Learn an instrument. Study a foreign language. Live abroad.
And if you get the chance, study at the Casa.
Kristen Wares (Spring '04)
Strategic Information Advisor USAID
As they say, once you know, you can’t not know. In January 2004, I was welcomed with open arms by the Quintanilla family and the San Antonio Abad community. Twice a week, I taught English to the fourth and fifth graders, learned the secrets of my students, ate green mangos with them in the courtyard, and was overwhelmed when they made me cards and brought me a cake on my birthday. I walked home with the four youngest Quintanilla children and Zibby McCleary, my praxis partner, sometimes stopping for ice cream on our way home. We ate lunch together in the Quintanilla home, never knowing exactly what combination of the family of fourteen would be present. We prayed together; the more family present, the longer the prayer would take. And then we’d spend the afternoon with community members, hearing their stories, visiting those who could use a visitor or who had an experience they were willing to share with us.
There was so much about the Casa experience that was transformative. Living in community, learning at the historic UCA campus from inspirational professors, Spanish immersion, experiencing my faith in a new way, having the awesome example of Kevin and Trena... But the privilege of a community, both at my praxis site as well as by the Salvadoran becarios, receive me so completely is what made the Casa experience so unique and important to me.
As a Strategic Information Advisor and Project Manager at USAID, I work to collect, analyze, and use data to inform evidence based programs that improve the health of people globally. I also work to strengthen health information systems and build capacity of host country governments and partners to be able to monitor, evaluate, and strengthen their own health programs. I work side by side with dedicated and innovative health professionals from around the world. I try to keep my experience around the Quintanilla’s table at the forefront of my mind in each of these interactions.
I came to El Salvador with an awareness of the country’s history, their current context, and with an academic understanding of my own privileged place in the world. Accepting the Salvadoran invitation to understand the reality put things into a jarring, sometimes painful, clarity. Even just day to day interactions brought challenges. I will never forget the humility of stumbling in Spanish, of trying to learn new words, struggling to fit into a new culture, a new pace, or the kindness and grace with which my Salvadoran friends guided me in the process. Thanks to them, I am better able to adapt to new circumstances. Thanks to their sense of humor and spontaneity, I try to keep myself open to new adventures, new friends, and new wisdom.
In my line of work, I am often presented as an expert. And indeed, I am fortunate enough to have had access to excellent training and education, including my time at the Casa. But the concept of solidarity and accompaniment were made very real to me in El Salvador, and living those ideals during my time at the Casa transformed my worldview in a way that I believe has mutually beneficial to me and the people I work with.
Once I learned the lessons that El Salvador taught me, I can’t not know them. They remind me to listen carefully and humbly when teenagers have important wisdom to impart, to be grateful that they have taken the time to share with me. They stay with me, and hum in my ear at large meetings in Washington DC, reminding me how these policies will affect people on the ground. They remind to try everything I’m offered and appreciate hospitality wholeheartedly. These lessons still challenge me. Most importantly, they reinforced the messages my parents taught me, about the importance of family, friends, and faith, not taking things for granted, and finding joy every day. There is not a day that goes on that I am not grateful for the adventure I took ten years ago.
Grace Carlson, Casa Bayanihan Co-director
My time at Casa de la Solidaridad fortuitously changed my life in the best possible way. While studying anthropology and theology in my undergraduate career at Fordham University, my time in the Bronx community left me thirsting to make lasting connections in my own life and with the world. I wanted to know what it was like to cross borders and frontiers and discover what it means to love my neighbor. I felt attracted to learning in an expansive, new way: from classes that stretched my imagination to communities that knew what it was like to suffer, work through loss, and rebuild.
My experience in the program fulfilled these desires and more. At the Casa, I met friends in my peer community from both the United States and El Salvador who shared the same questions and hopes as me, but who also challenged me to celebrate our differences. The people in the praxis sites, especially the community of Canton el Cedro and the albergue, or shelter, in San Jacinto for evacuees during heavy rains, marked my heart and my mind. In the midst of allowing the Salvadoran reality to penetrate my life, I felt completely supported by the staff, especially in terms of allowing my spirituality to flourish and breathe new life. The healing I found walking with the people in El Salvador through the Casa program was tremendous and gave me the freedom to say "yes" to deeper calls in my life.
After graduation, I worked in the Nativity Schools of San Jose, California as a teacher for "at-risk" youth who had recently come from Central America. Through this experience, it became clear to me that I wanted to commit my life to walking with those who are most vulnerable, to living more simply, and to sharing in a faith community that seeks justice. Later, the opportunity to transition careers and co-direct Casa Bayanihan in the Philippines, the sister program of Casa de la Solidaridad, became another crossroads in my life and one that I have not regretted.
Training for the co-director position in El Salvador and later working in the Philippines has only affirmed an awareness of the fragility and dignity of life. I feel so blessed to have the friendships of community members and the privilege of guiding students in Casa Bayanihan. More than ever, I believe in Peter-Hans Kolvenbach's call to cultivate a "well-educated solidarity." There is an urgency for a challenging love, one that calls us to faithfulness to our friends who experience injustice. These friendships around the world and the hope I see in the students calls me to recommit to both the joys and the struggles of this work, even when faithfulness does not seem outwardly successful. I have a debt of gratitude to all of these friends who selflessly guided me and all the other students of Casa de la Solidaridad through the witness of their lives. They give me great hope, and in these relationships, I see glimpses of radical love and signs of what the martyrs called the Kingdom of God.
Tom and Liz McDermott Hare
We had the great fortune of meeting each other at a Casa alum gathering at SLU. Sharing the profound impact our own experiences in El Salvador had on each of us helped us form a strong, lasting bond. We both agree that our time at the Casa helped us decide to pursue the careers we have and deeply impacted who we are as individuals, as a couple, and as parents. The unspoken challenge from the Salvadorans to engage others with humility continues to affect the way we live our lives on a daily basis.
The Casa program offers college students an opportunity to experience the rawness and fullness of life at levels some people never experience in their entire lives. The program gives students the gift of learning to truly live in the present – something that if mastered early will deeply impact every day of a person’s future. We frequently look back on our time at the Casa to remind us what is truly important in life - in the words of Dean Brackley, “that is life itself and love”. Few other college experiences not only offer these lessons, but also make it virtually impossible to leave without truly understanding their meaning. We recommend the Casa to anyone with the desire to simply experience life.
After graduating from SLU, we returned to El Salvador, this time together. We worked in several communities establishing programs or supporting existing efforts to improve nutrition in school-aged youth and access to computer technology in schools. The non-profit we established, Connect Education International, continues to serve the children in La Javilla and San Ramon under the exclusive leadership of Salvadoran community members.
Driven by the desire to understand the structures and policies at work in the communities we came to know in El Salvador, we pursued our master’s degrees in Development Management and Policy at Georgetown University and Universidad Nacional San Martín in Buenos Aires, Argentina. We were fortunate to have the opportunity to travel throughout South America – whether it was by rowboat on Lake Titicaca or with the Organization of American States observing elections in Colombia. Throughout the entire experience we drew on our Casa experience to engage with communities where possible and to listen to the stories of those we met along the way.
After completing our studies, we moved to Washington, D.C. where Liz worked on foreign policy issues in the U.S. Senate and Tom managed legal reform programs in Latin America for the American Bar Association. We experienced firsthand the way issues such as the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, social violence in Mexico and Central America, and post-war development in Afghanistan are discussed and addressed by governments. In these instances we were able to draw on our experiences in El Salvador to better understand and advise decision makers on issues that had real consequences for people in communities like those we had come to know.
We are now in St. Louis, MO where Liz is the Director of Programs for the World Soy Foundation and also manages the American Soybean Association’s nutrition and market development programs in Latin America. Tom recently completed his Ph.D. in Public Policy Analysis. He is an adjunct professor at SLU and consults for community and international development clients. We continue to be challenged and humbled by our Casa experience, whether through engagement to improve nutrition in communities in Central America, or by studying the impact and solutions to violence in communities throughout the hemisphere.
Overall, the Casa experience continues to give us life and helps to bring greater meaning to our relationship, parenthood, and our work. We hope our two children, Grace and Patrick, are able to experience something like the Casa one day.
Joyana Jacoby Dvorak
Service Immersion Coordinator at DePaul University
At Marquette I studied Sociology and Theology. I naively was hoping to understand the systems of our society through Sociology and then apply Theology to fix them. For years I had been learning about poverty and injustice from textbooks. I was tired of reading about it. I was ready to awaken to the world and the cries for justice, to breathe it, taste it, see it, smell it, live it fully.
Casa de la Solidaridad was an opportunity to dive in, to entregarse. Concepts soon had names, faces, and stories of people who welcomed me with radical hospitality. In El Salvador, I learned to listen exquisitely to another way of being. I was knocked off my pedestal as I witnessed grassroots organizing, the power of community, and a faith in action that continues to motivate me.
At the heart, I learned to let those among us living in poverty lead my next steps. After college I spent a few years in Leon, Guanajuato Mexico with the Good Shepherd Volunteers. I humbly walked with girls in a boarding school who taught me the importance of peacemaking. I accompanied women in a sewing cooperative and learned what it means to be a woman, mother, sister, friend in our world. I came back from Mexico with a mission to “luchar por y con ustedes desde el otro lado” – to fight for and with those I loved from the other side. I moved to Chicago and advocated with the Catholic Campaign for Immigration Reform at the Chicago Archdiocese Peace and Justice Office.
Now, over 10 years later, I am still connected to the Salvadoran community as the Coordinator of the DePaul Service Immersion Program. I have the privilege to accompany students to El Salvador, Colombia, and many domestic places as their hearts are broken open for the first time and as they discover their own brokenness.
Central to my work is continuing to build long-term relationships with the partners who invite us to their reality for a short time. I completed my Masters in Non-Profit Management at DePaul and used this research opportunity to invite the partners’ voices to the table. As an adjunct faculty in the Peace, Justice and Conflict Studies program at DePaul I dive deeper with students into understandings of social justice and our responsibility to build the kingdom of God together.
Through the life shaping experience in El Salvador I came face to face with a reality that continues to shape my vocation. My husband knows that my first true love was El Salvador and our brothers and sisters living in poverty. Now as we begin our journey as parents, I pray our son Theodore will be as blessed as I am to have a root system of friends working together to build another world that we believe is possible! By joining the Casa program you will be invited to this friendship and invited to belong to a family who will walk with you every step of your journey.
Technical Recruiter at Facebook
Studying at the Casa affected me in many ways, all of which were positive and helped me become a better person. The Casa pushed me outside my comfort zone, which gave me confidence to do keep doing so long after I left San Salvador; it made me think critically about the world around me in a way that was different from classroom learning; and most importantly, it instilled a sense of empathy that I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere else.
As your average suburbanite from Ohio, I went to Boston College to live in a big city and get out of the Midwest. I studied history and international studies at BC, and during my sophomore year I went to Haiti on a service trip. This trip was the culmination of months of preparation, and in hindsight it played a major role in my decision to study at the Casa. The trip to Haiti was so short, which made me really want to be immerse myself in the culture and country I would study abroad in…and the Casa presented the best opportunity to do that. After studying at the Casa and graduating from BC, I worked as an immigration paralegal and decided to pursue international relations in graduate school. I got a master’s degree from The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and moved to NYC to follow my then girlfriend, now wife.
Moving to NYC in 2010 was a humbling experience, as the job market was tough. However, I was lucky enough to get a contract role with Google on their recruiting team. It was my first experience in the private sector, and it wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be…in fact, it was the opposite of bad. I now work at Facebook in NYC, staffing their engineering teams and building out our East Coast hub. My life in NYC and work that I’m doing is very different from my praxis site in San Ramon and life in El Salvador, but each have been fulfilling in different ways.
I would recommend the Casa for many reasons: the academic rigor, the praxis work, the immersion in local communities, and the lifelong friendships that come out of your time in El Salvador. But to me, the best reason to study at the Casa is the way it teaches you to empathize with others and to move outside your comfort zone.
Deputy Chief of Staff to U.S. Secretary of Commerce
This fall, it will have been 12 years since I participated in the Casa de la Solidaridad. And from when I stepped out of El Salvador to today, through the adventure I have called my life since, I don’t think I can say there has not been a day that I have not felt how El Salvador changed me and gave me a perspective on life that has shaped me forever.
The semester I left El Salvador, I studied abroad in Mexico City at one of the wealthiest universities in the country. At the moment, it was hard to swallow - going from living in solidarity the poor to classes with the wealthiest in Mexico - but looking back, what it did afford me was a real life experience of the wealth and inequality in Latin America. I had truly lived at both ends of the spectrum. That was my organizing moment – what helped me to decide that it was up to me to help “be the change.” Perspective.
After having spent 4 years studying international studies at BC, semesters in El Salvador and Mexico City and trips to Nicaragua I was certain I was going to go into working in international affairs focused on Latin America. Then when I left Boston College, I found my calling....I realized that as a Latina in the United States, an identity I hadn't truly discovered until I went to Boston College and lived in Latin America, I had something to contribute to our country and our community though the political system and that was a way for me to continue to serve our community. The Latino community was a sleeping giant and realized I wanted to work toward helping to realize our own political power, so I moved to Washington, DC. I spent several years working on Capitol Hill and then eventually to the White House to work for President Obama - working on issues from immigration reform to health reform to income inequality and college affordability.
I have had the privilege to be at the decision making table with some of our country's most important leaders - from Members of Congress to Cabinet Secretary's to national business and community leaders to the President of the United States. And yes, as a 5'0 Latina, it can sometimes be intimidating. But I have to remind myself that I am there because I bring a set of experiences and perspective that is important for me to share.
The issues I have worked on are hard and complicated and none have been easy to advance, some of which will continue to be challenges we will work on for many years, maybe even decades - but they are all issues that in my mind, helped us to make the world more just, to make the playing field more even, so that anyone who works hard and plays by the rules has a chance to succeed. Ideals that I think Archbishop Romero would have fundamentally agreed with. There have been many times when we have hit bumps in the road - like a 2010 failed vote for passage of the Dream Act to where we are with the broken immigration system today - that I have had to channel Archbishop Romero's encouragement to take the long view. These movements of social justice and social change don't happen overnight.
What I have learned over time – from my days in El Salvador to where I sit today is it is It's all about perspective. Whether you are in the class room, the board room, or the Situation Room of the White House, it’s all about the past experiences and perspective you bring to the table. I am grateful to the Casa program and the Salvadoran people that I grew to know and love to have given me perspective - perspective of a world beyond my comfort zone one that has helped me to see a bigger picture and bigger world in various places where I have been able to step up to be a leader. It has a lit a fire inside my heart that has stayed burning bright over the last 12 years and hopefully will for many more.
To close with a quote from another martyr, Martin Luther King, Jr. “The arc of the universe is long but it bends toward justice.” It is our role to take that long view and know our role in this, that we plant the seeds to be sown one day and we all do our part to bend the arc a bit more toward justice.
Paul Shoaf Kozak
There are few, if any, experiences in life that make us ontologically different. That is to say, they change us at the core and move us to understand the essence of who we are in a wildly more profound way. Typically, these are experiences that provoke infinite amounts of gratitude. Participating in La Casa de la Solidaridad, whereby I was gifted the opportunity to be immersed amongst the Salvadoran people and their social reality for a semester, was a life experience that drastically altered my ontological view of self. Although this chance to know a part of El Salvador happened back in the fall of 2002 when I was a junior at John Carroll University majoring in Political Science, I continue to interpret and re-interpret my own identity and purpose through the pair of lenses given to me by Griselda, Paty, Fito, Julio, Boris, Reina, Melvin, Carmen, Padre Luis and many others.
Today a significant form of this aforementioned meaning making occurs for me outside of Boston, MA at a county jail, where I am employed as Interfaith Coordinator (a fancy title for prison chaplain). In accompanying 1000+ men and women who are “locked up”, I frequently encounter the same virtues of hope, resilience, courage, and faith that I came to witness first in the Salvadorans. Granted the pain and suffering felt by these inmates is particular to this unique reality. At the same time, it is precisely through solidarity, community, and loving kindness that their pain and suffering begins to be redeemed.
I came to the Northeast of the United States in 2009 with my companion, Rebecca. While she completed a Master’s Degree of Social at Boston College, I studied theology there. She now works as clinical social worker for an organization that serves people affected by HIV/AIDS. Most recently, we have been graced by the births of our two children, Luca and Joaquín. Caring for children has only heightened our sense of urgency to manifest goodness and truth in this world. It is a desire and a vision that I first learned of through Romero, the UCA martyrs, and all of the Salvadorans who faithfully gave themselves for others in the hope that their seeds would one day bear fruit for what Dean Brackley might call God’s Kingdom.
A few weeks back during one of our spirituality groups at the jail, an older gentleman remarked, “This group is salvation for me.” Besides naming his own experience, he also puts words to my Casa experience. At that time in my life, it was salvation. In 2014 I see the Casa as a salvific experience that is ongoing.
Jelena Radovic Fanta
Academic Year Adjunct Lecturer at Santa Clara University
My time spent as a student in the Casa program in El Salvador was profoundly transformative and still informs my life more than 10 years later. I was immersed in a reality of everyday economic challenges, where the legacy of a violent civil war was palpable, and where hope and community were continuously built one day after the other. I learned how people struggle to make do and strive for justice, not through textbooks and articles but through engaging in our praxis sites, living in community with fellow students, and sharing quotidian activities and conversations with Salvadorans who became dear friends.
Taking classes in the Casa and the UCA (Universidad Centroamericana) we unpacked the economic, political, and religious processes in order to critically explore and bridge the realms of academia and social reality. Living in community with fellow students as we tackled these issues was a key element in our experiences and growth. I was also deeply inspired by the legacy of women and men who dedicated their lives⎯and oftentimes lost them⎯to the pursuit of fighting injustice, poverty, and human rights violations. This did not remain confined to El Salvador, but has shaped the paths I have taken along with other Casa alums to communities around the world.
I am from Viña del Mar, Chile and arrived to the United States for my undergraduate studies at Santa Clara University. I stumbled into an Anthropology course as a sophomore, became enamored of the discipline, and graduated with a double major in Anthropology and Environmental Studies. As a junior I studied abroad in El Salvador and returned to the Casa program after graduation to work as a Community Facilitator. During that year I accompanied students in their study abroad experience and volunteered at a human rights NGO Pro-Búsqueda that investigates the cases of disappeared children during the civil war.
I subsequently began my doctoral studies in Anthropology at University of California, Riverside. I formed part of a stimulating community of scholars, thinkers, and activists that explored questions of society, politics, and how humans give meaning to their lives. During graduate school I discovered a passion for teaching and engaging students as they grapple with inquiries of who we are and how we shape the society we live in. As a graduate student I returned to Chile for two years to carry out doctoral research, partially funded by the Inter-American Foundation. My dissertation investigates the lived experiences of female seasonal laborers who work in fruit packing plants in Chile’s Aconcagua Valley. Specifically, I examine the effects of precarious working conditions, neoliberal labor regimes, and cyclical un/employment patterns on women’s subjectivities. During this time I also worked as a consultant on gender and labor issues faced by seasonal workers. I completed my Ph.D. in December 2012 and subsequently worked as an adjunct lecturer at the Anthropology Department of UC Riverside, where I taught Political Anthropology and introductory Cultural Anthropology courses.
I recently moved back to northern California and am employed as a lecturer at Santa Clara University. I teach courses on Latin America, gender, and social change in the Anthropology and Sociology Departments. It has been very positive to be closer to the Santa Clara and Casa communities. For prospective students considering enrolling in the Program, I highly encourage you to find out more about it and speak to students who have already gone. I was challenged to live and critically examine issues of poverty, inequities, development, and community; these are questions that I am still exploring to this day. Without a doubt, the Casa program still plays a fundamental role in my professional and personal endeavors.
Program Officer for Eisenhower Fellowships
More than a dozen years after my participation in Casa de la Solidaridad in El Salvador, I still look to this as the most formative experience to date. I often find myself returning to the relationships developed there, the lessons of love and compassion learned, and the formidable spirit of the Salvadorans from which to draw inspiration, motivation and clarity. I consider myself incredibly lucky to have had tremendous experiences throughout my life, but still none compares to the time I spent at the Casa.
When I participated in the program, I was a junior at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, where I was a Theology major, minoring in Spanish and Faith Justice. What exactly I was hoping to do with a degree in theology, I wasn’t quite sure. It was my particular interest in Liberation Theology that drew me to El Salvador, but it was so much more that made the experience so formative. I mention that only to say, no matter what you study, where you are coming from, this experience has the potential to give you a foundation upon which you can build for the rest of your life – wherever that may take you.
After my graduation from St. Joe’s, I taught high school Spanish for a year before creating and managing the Office of Community Service for Temple University. I drew on many of my experiences in El Salvador to influence the community and international programming that I developed in this role.
Since then, I have completed my Master of Public Administration degree from the University of Pennsylvania’s Fels Institute of Government. For the past four years I have been serving as a program officer for Eisenhower Fellowships, a non-profit organization dedicated to enhancing international dialogue and collaboration through professional exchange. There I manage eighteen program administrators in as many countries, and work with some of the most talented leaders in all sectors from the U.S. and international communities.
There’s nothing I can say that I feels adequately captures the profound ways in which the Casa influenced, challenged, and shaped me. What I can say is that it continues to do those things for me thirteen years later. I can’t think of a better investment of time and energy that will undoubtedly pay off for a lifetime.
Senior Portfolio Manager at Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
One of the best quotes I heard at the Casa, and emblematic of so many of our experiences in El Salvador is, “Caminante, no hay camino, se hace camino al andar.” Traveler, there is no path; we make the path by walking. I think so many of us in college are trying to figure out how we make sense of our interests and passions with what we want to do with the rest of our lives. It’s been more than a decade since I attended the Casa, and I feel as certain as ever that the Casa shaped so much of my path; in ways that I was searching for, but couldn’t fully define when I sent in my application. At that point, I was majoring in accounting and finance, and while I liked the logic of business classes, it would have been hard to call it my passion. I spent my free time and elective classes trying to learn more about social justice issues and volunteering in the Spokane community that surrounded Gonzaga. There wasn’t a day that went by when I didn’t wonder how this all fit together in the long run.
Then you go to El Salvador and meet someone like Griselda or Cristina, who take you to their home, and offer you the best meal their families may eat all year. You go off to the countryside and stay with a family whose understanding of languages is that the wealthy babies of the world are born speaking English and everyone else is born speaking Spanish. You have heated discussions in class with your peers about the role of social justice vs. charity, and then you take a step toward integrating what you once knew to be true with what you now see.
Today I work for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in a role that absolutely combines my passion and my skills. A core focus of my job is financing projects focused on primary healthcare in Africa. The outcome of this collaboration is a parent being able to sleep through the night because they now know their child won’t die from malaria. It’s the woman who can now access contraceptives to plan for her family so that she can feed all of her children and send them to school. It’s the child who now gets vaccines to protect against preventable diseases. Doctors, teachers, nurses and so many other professions are critical to people worldwide, but through the Casa, I started to see that every profession can intersect with the needs of the world.
Everyone’s time at the Casa is different, but I can’t think of a more formative college experience. For whatever few certainties there are in life, I am confident I would not be where I am today without the Casa.
Brendan Ruddy and Christy Soran
Christy Soran and Brendan Ruddy graduated from Boston College in the class of 2006 and studied at Casa in the Fall of 2004.
Only through Casa did Christy and Brendan meet, despite both attending Boston College and Brendan knowing Christy’s extended family. They were fortunate to begin their relationship while at Casa and among the amazing community of friends in Casa Romero and Silvia and at their two praxis sites.
Upon graduating from Boston College, Christy and Brendan spent a year of service in Moshi, Tanzania, where they lived in community with other volunteers. In Tanzania, Christy worked for the Nshara Community Medical Center assisting in mass vaccination campaigns, home sanitation education, and women’s and children health programs.
Having discovered her vocation for medicine in Tanzania, Christy returned to the Boston area where she worked for a regional hospital network researching quality of care while also pursuing post-baccalaureate pre-med certification. Christy completed a Master’s of Public Health at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in 2010, and is currently in her fourth year of medical school at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia. While pursuing her medical education Christy has had numerous opportunities to volunteer and work with underprivileged communities in the United States and abroad. She has volunteered at needle exchange and harm reduction programs for IV drug users and sex workers. She also volunteers with a student-run free clinic for patients without insurance dealing with chronic diseases. She will be traveling to Kenya in 2014 to conduct research on disease incidence in urban slums as a Hubert Fellow at the Center for Disease Control, and she is applying to residency programs in Internal Medicine.
In Tanzania, Brendan worked for the KWIECO, a local NGO that provides direct legal aid to women and children suffering abuse and provides advocacy programs addressing women’s and children’s rights at the grassroots level in the Kilimanjaro region. Brendan’s work focused on a region-wide survey of attitudes and opinions regarding women’s and children’s rights, as well as program development for KWIECO’s advocacy work.
Brendan returned from Tanzania to pursue his law degree at Georgetown Law, where he focused his studies and work on issues of international law and domestic violence. Upon graduating from law school in 2010, Brendan served as judicial clerk to the Hon. Lynn Leibovitz at the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, working primarily on major felony trials. Over the past years Brendan has applied his legal education in various legal clinics, counseling individuals unable to afford representation on legal issues of employment, immigration, and custody, as well as working on municipal homelessness policy making. Moving to Philadelphia in the fall of 2011, Brendan entered private practice with the firm Eckert Seamans, where he continues to practice.
Casa has played a significant role in Christy’s and Brendan’s lives and relationship. In addition to meeting incredible and caring friends, Casa’s immediate impact was to help Christy and Brendan successfully live in Tanzania and positively encounter some of the challenges of living abroad and in communities with substantially fewer resources as North America. Casa instilled upon them the value of personal reflection and humility when approaching new cultures and accompanying the poor. Over time, Casa has provided Christy and Brendan with perspectives and memories that help them approach their respective fields of medicine and law in a way more oriented to just relationships and in solidarity with marginalized populations. Unsurprisingly, Casa has also significantly improved their relationship. Not only do they share most of their fondest memories and friendships from college, but the aspects of community living and spirituality at Casa have helped them be better partners to one another. They continue to work together in attempting to create a pupusa as delicious as those they enjoyed in El Salvador.
In October 2013 they celebrated their wedding.
David Romero, SJ
I attended Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles and majored in Theological Studies with a minor in Business Administration. I am currently getting a Master's in Philosophical Resources at Fordham University, NY. I studied at Casa in the fall semester of 2007.
Upon graduation from LMU, I entered the novitiate of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits). This two-year experience entailed a variety of opportunities, including going on the 30-day silent retreat doing the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, working as a chaplain in a juvenile hall and hospital in LA, going on a 3-week pilgrimage starting with only $30, working at a Jesuit elementary school and parish in Kingston, Jamaica, and teaching at Verbum Dei High School (a Cristo Rey school) in Watts, CA.
And so since college--and upon completing the novitiate--I made my First Vows as a Jesuit, which are poverty, chastity, and obedience. And my first assignment--what I am currently engaged in--is to study philosophy at Fordham University. While studying philosophy, I have also helped out at Cristo Rey New York High School in Harlem, as well as organized and led for the last two years a "Casa Reflection Group" for Casa alums upon their immediate return to Fordham from their semester abroad.
My Casa experience has had a tremendous influence on my life and continues to be a "fountain of grace" that I return to, from which I draw life, love, and faith. Overall, the Casa has been a life-changing and live-giving experience for me. My encounter with and accompaniment of the Salvadoran people helped me to see the world in a new way, to encounter reality from a completely different perspective, and this new, deeper vision challenged me to think and feel in new ways. My eyes were opened to the suffering of others, which I was unable to imagine before and, similarly, my heart was opened to the inexhaustible generosity, faith, hope, and love these people shared with me. I learned how to love and be loved for who you are--and not what you do. Thus, in a very profound way, my experience with the Salvadoran people and my classmates opened me up to seriously consider a vocation as a Jesuit priest.
My experiences in El Salvador also made a mark on my life in relation to issues of justice and faith. I found that I could no longer claim ignorance to the injustices these people, my friends, were experiencing and to my previously held notion that I am not an accomplice in causing injustice from afar. This realization instilled in me a passion and desire to live more intentionally and to concretely love the poor and marginalized. Moreover, it deepened the call to live my Catholic faith more authentically, with the heart of the justice of the Gospel.
Casa helped transform my understanding of education, solidarity, compassion, justice, and accompaniment. As a result, I have found myself growing in the desire to work within the world of "transformative education," to accompany students as they encounter la realidad and consider how it opens them up to new life, a life that could be about something more, something greater.
I am deeply grateful for the friendships I have made with my classmates and the Salvadorans--some of the most amazing people-- and others from the program whom I've had the honor of meeting along the way. I can confidently say that Casa is a touchstone experience in my life, and is a grace that I continually live out of!
Program Manager at UN Women Liberia
Emily Stanger is an economic policy advisor and an advocate for women’s rights, specialized in enhancing the economic opportunities of women in developing and post-conflict countries.
After reading Stanger’s graduate research on women’s role in the Liberian economy, H.E. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, President of the Republic of Liberia, personally invited Emily to serve as a special advisor in the Liberian Government. Working with the Minister for Gender and Development, Emily designed new economic programming for Liberia’s Poverty Reduction Strategy to reach nearly 40,000 of Liberia’s most vulnerable women and girls. Stanger’s commitment to Liberia sparked during her graduate school internship with the Government of Liberia, supported by the NGK Fellowship at Harvard’s Women and Public Policy Program.
Since 2009, she has managed Liberia’s first large-scale programme to address economic inequalities between men and women, working through innovative partnerships between the Government, United Nations, private sector and civil society. Working for UN Women, she continues in her role advising the Liberian Government on its gender priorities, including in women and trade, women’s access to financial services, infrastructure to reduce women’s time burden, and adult education.
Prior to her work in Liberia, Emily was recommended by the Harvard Women’s Leadership Board to advise Cherie Blair, QC, on the focus and the establishment of the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women (CBFW). Emily’s recommendations directed the Foundation’s focus towards women and mobile technology and led to its launch and commitment at the 2008 Clinton Global Initiative.
Emily dedicated a year of service after her undergraduate studies to serve as a women’s advocate for survivors of violence and trafficking on the US / Mexico border. She has traveled extensively across Latin America and West Africa and speaks Spanish and Liberian English.
Emily Stanger holds a Masters in Public Administration in International Development from Harvard Kennedy School (2008) and graduated summa cum laude with degrees in Economic and Theology from Boston College (2005). She is the recipient of Harvard’s Jane Mansbridge Research Award for distinguished research on women or gender, as well as Boston College’s Alice E Bourneuf Award in Economics and Cardinal O’Connell Theology Medal for the top student in Economics and Theology, respectively.
About her experience in El Salvador, Emily says: “The Casa experience profoundly shaped my personal, spiritual and professional development, and so much so, it is hard to believe that I only spent four months in El Salvador with Casa! Ten years later, my prayers still reflect the lessons and spiritual language I learned from the Salvadoran community. The women of Tepecoyo, my most memorable teachers from El Salvador, unleashed my passion for opening new doors for women and girls; they planted in me the seeds that grew into a career dedicated to breaking down economic barriers for women. In my professional work, I continue to strive for programming that learns from its participants, as much as it seeks to teach them new skills. This connection to community and respect for local knowledge and wisdom are values that I internalized through the Casa's approach to education and community accompaniment."
This year, Emily was named on Forbes Magazine's list of 30 under 30 in law and policy. http://www.forbes.com/pictures/mlj45kdmm/emily-stanger/
Jordan Country Director of Jesuit Refugee Services
Colin is a graduate of Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles and studied with Casa de la Solidaridad in Spring 2006.
With a background in Ignatian spirituality, liberation theology, Spanish and Arabic, Colin has worked with immigrants and displaced populations for several years in East Los Angeles, El Salvador, Colombia, Kenya and occupied Palestinian territories. Colin taught Catholic Social Teaching at Xavier College Preparatory High School in Palm Desert for several years before moving to the Middle East. For the last two years he has been working with Jesuit Refugee Services (JRS) in Jordan, where he now serves as the Jordan Country Director.
With the emergency of the Arab Spring and due to mass movements of refugees in the MIddle East, the work of JRS in the region has increased significantly. In addition to responsibilities in Jordan, Colin has been called upon to assist with communication and advocacy for the JRS Middle East and North Africa regional office, which oversees initiatives in Syria, Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon.
Reflecting on his Casa experience, Colin writes: "My time in El Savlador with the Casa broke down my notion of reality in a way that was dark and difficult yet liberating. I’m grateful for the time I had with some of my favorite people on the planet in El Salvador. It was a transformative experience, which undoubtedly continues to have impact on the way I live my life and what I’m doing with my life now."
Jessica Jenkins, JD/MSW
Supervising attorney at the Center for Employment Training Immigration and Citizenship Program in San Jose, CA.
I studied International Relations and Latin American Studies at Stanford University and participated in the Casa program in El Salvador in fall, 2001. My time at the Casa profoundly shaped me personally and professionally. I had the opportunity to return to El Salvador the summer after the Casa, and I traveled around the country speaking to women about their experiences of Catholicism, community organizing and liberation theology. I met many of them through relationships I established as a Casa student, and I was profoundly humbled and honored that they agreed to share their experiences with me. I wrote my college thesis based on those interviews and research.
My experiences in El Salvador sealed my commitment to working for social justice, and also instilled in me empathy for all those who are forced by violence and economic injustice to leave their countries of origin. When I came home to California, where so many Central Americans have immigrated, I felt compelled to focus on promoting the rights of immigrants. Upon graduating college in 2003, I joined the Jesuit Volunteer Corps (JVC) and worked as a paralegal with immigrant elders in San Francisco. After JVC, I worked with NETWORK, a National Catholic Social Justice lobby, in Washington DC, where we lobbied the federal government for social and economic justice. I then went to Fordham University in New York City where I earned joint degrees in law and social work, with a focus on defending the rights of immigrants and low-wage workers.
Since graduating in 2010, I have returned home to the San Francisco Bay Area, where I now work as the supervising attorney at the Center for Employment Training Immigration and Citizenship Program in San Jose. Our program provides legal assistance to immigrants, who are predominantly from Mexico and Central America. We help reunite families and obtain immigration relief for survivors of trauma and violence. We also help provide temporary relief to DREAMers, young immigrants who have grown up in the United States. This year we are also organizing for comprehensive immigration reform, which we hope will bring more humanity and dignity to our country’s immigration laws. I think about my time in El Salvador constantly and am so grateful for the emotional and intellectual skills the Casa program taught me.
I currently live in my hometown of Redwood City, CA with my grandfather, a World War II veteran. In my spare time I am helping him document his memories of the war, and am also experimenting with canning, cooking and baking. I still keep in touch with many of the people I met during my time at the Casa and am profoundly grateful for all those relationships. I would not be the person I am today without the Casa!
Chris Salas-Wright, Ph.D
Assistant Professor at the School of Social Work at the University of Texas at Austin.
Currently I live in Austin Texas with my partner – and fellow social worker – Vanessa Salas-Wright. We have been lucky to be surrounded by a wonderful community of friends who share with us an interest in social justice and social welfare in Latin America and beyond. Many of these friends are people I met while studying/working at the Casa between 2001 and 2006.
In terms of my professional life, I finished my doctorate in social work at the Boston College Graduate School of Social Work (GSSW) in May 2012. My dissertation research was on the role of religiosity and spirituality as protective factors for violence, delinquency, and substance abuse among high-risk and gang-involved youth in El Salvador. After having lived in El Salvador for nearly 4 years and having spent a good chunk of that time volunteering with high-risk youth and youth gang members in an addictions treatment center in San Salvador, I found the opportunity to conduct this kind of research to be very exciting. Currently, I am a postdoctoral fellow at the Brown University Center for Alcohol and Addiction Studies where I am continuing my research on high-risk youth, youth problem behavior, and substance abuse prevention. I also am an Adjunct Faculty member at the Boston College GSSW where I teach “Human Behavior and the Social Environment”.
Without any doubt, my experience as a Casa student profoundly shaped my personal and professional development. It gave me the opportunity to return to El Salvador after my first visit during my freshman year in college and to do so in a very supportive environment that was designed to integrate academic learning with firsthand, lived experience. My semester at the Casa helped me to begin to make sense of what I was seeing in El Salvador on an emotional and intellectual level, and to do so in community with other college students from the United States and El Salvador who were deeply committed to exploring issues of justice, compassion, and faith.
Being a part of the Casa introduced me to wonderful friends, helped me to begin to imagine how my academic formation was of relevance to my passion for social justice, and opened up many doors of opportunities for me. I ended up working for the Casa for two years and, in doing so, learned a tremendous amount about international education and student development. Undoubtedly, such experience informed my decision to pursue a career in academia and to try to dedicate myself to conducting research and engaging with students in ways that can impact the well-being of young people and their communities.