Mercer Students Take On Poverty Through Local Engagement

March 17, 2011

Media Contact: Mark Vanderhoek, (478) 301-4037 or vanderhoek_m@mercer.edu
Conference web site: leap.mercer.edu

MACON — Mercer University students have launched an initiative on the Macon campus to contribute 10,000 hours of service focusing on poverty alleviation or poverty prevention within Macon. The initiative, Local Engagement Against Poverty, is part of a commitment several Mercer Service Scholars made at a Clinton Global Initiative University conference last year. The students are also leading a conference to help inspire fellow students. The conference begins today with a slate of showings of the play, “Nickel and Dimed,” and will run throughout the week of March 20-26, concluding with a Service Day on March 26.

“When you spend time in Macon, you realize it is still affected by poverty, and that is why we started this initiative. We felt strongly we could make a difference in Macon,” said student organizer Chelsea Flieger, who is heading up the volunteer efforts. “We made this commitment to help our fellow students engage against poverty in our community, and this conference is meant to help spur them to action.”

The play will be staged in the sanctuary of Centenary United Methodist Church, 1290 College St. The staged production of “Nickel and Dimed: On Not Getting By in America” is based on Barbara Ehrenreich’s best-selling book of the same name, which examines the lives of the working poor. The shows are at 7 p.m. today through Sunday, March 20, with a matinee showing at 1:30 p.m. on Sunday. Tickets will be available at the door for $5; student tickets are $3. All proceeds benefit The Rainbow Center and the National Coalition for the Homeless.

The play also serves as the kick-off of the LEAP Conference, which includes a series of student and public events beginning Monday, March 21. The Florida Modern Day Slavery Museum will be on display Monday on Porter Patch in front of Stetson Hall. The museum will be open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and is free and open to the public. In addition, the conference will host a talk Monday by the Faces of Homelessness, a group of homeless speakers from the Macon area who will share their personal struggles with homelessness and poverty. The event is held in conjunction with National Coalition for the Homeless. The presentation will be held in the Medical School Auditorium at 6 p.m. and is free and open to the public.

Tuesday’s events include two sold-out poverty simulations, in which students experience the “felt reality” of poverty. Students receive a fictional family identity and budget from which to work. After putting together a workable budget for their family’s circumstances, they then receive “Life Happens” cards that present them with common situations such as unexpected and unbudgeted medical expenses, car expenses, or a raise in rent. Students then must try to access assistance through mock social service agencies set up around the arena floor of the University Center.  The simulations will be led by a professional facilitator.

On Wednesday, March 23, the University Worship service at 10 a.m. in Newton Chapel features Jason Alfonse Fileta, the executive director of the Micah Institute at New York Theological Seminary. He has worked against poverty for a number of years, including founding an antipoverty organization. Fileta’s presentation is titled “Loose the Chains of Injustice: Extreme Poverty Must End.” The service is open to the public.

Also on Wednesday, the conference will hold its keynote event at 7 p.m. in Willingham Auditorium. Keynote addresses are “Poverty and the Politics of Religion,” by Dr. David Gushee, Distinguished University Professor of Christian Ethics at Mercer and director of Mercer’s Center for Theology and Public Life, and “Speak Out: It’s time for the church to open its big mouth,” by the Rev. Adam Phillips, church outreach director of the ONE Campaign in North America. The event is free and open to the public.

On Thursday, March 24, the conference presentations switch to local engagement, with a panel discussion at 7 p.m. in the Presidents Dining Room in the University Center. The panel is titled “What can we all do to make progress against poverty in Macon?” and will be moderated by Amy Morton, a marriage and family therapist. The panel includes Julie Moore, executive director of Education First; Keith Moffet, director of internal affairs for the city of Macon; Capt. Thomas York, head of inmate support for Clarke County; and Veronica Womack, an associate professor of political science at Georgia College and State University. The panel discussion is free and open to the public.

On Friday, March 25, students from a number of classes and organizations will put up “shanty towns” representing various poverty stricken areas around the world on Mercer’s historic quad. The shanty towns will be on display from 6 p.m. to midnight, and a soup kitchen dinner will be served. After sundown, there will be a showing of the episode of Morgan Spurlock’s “30 Days,” where he spent a month living on minimum wage. 

The conference culminates on Saturday, March 26, with the conference Service Day, with service activities focusing on poverty alleviation and urban revitalization. Students will be dispersing throughout the Macon community in partnership with Rebuilding Macon, Habitat for Humanity, the Façade Squad and the National Coalition for the Homeless. Other service days partnering with these organizations and the Macon Rescue Mission are scheduled throughout March and April.

Organizers are planning more service days to help meet the 10,000-hour commitment and students are logging their service hours through the group’s web site, leap.mercer.edu.

“We’re building this as an opportunity for students to get involved, but also to stay involved,” said Phillip York, another student organizer. “We’ll be doing service events throughout this year and into next school year as well. We hope to have the commitment fulfilled by next year, but we also hope this initiative continues beyond the commitment.”

About Mercer University
Founded in 1833, Mercer University is a dynamic and comprehensive center of undergraduate, graduate and professional education. The University enrolls more than 8,200 students in 11 schools and colleges – liberal arts, law, pharmacy, medicine, business, engineering, education, theology, music, nursing and continuing and professional studies – on major campuses in Macon, Atlanta and Savannah and at three regional academic centers across the state. Mercer is affiliated with two teaching hospitals — Memorial University Medical Center in Savannah and the Medical Center of Central Georgia in Macon, and has educational partnerships with Warner Robins Air Logistics Center in Warner Robins and Piedmont Healthcare in Atlanta. The University operates an academic press and a performing arts center in Macon and an engineering research center in Warner Robins. Mercer is the only private university in Georgia to field an NCAA Division I athletic program. For more information, visit www.mercer.edu.
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