Alumni and Students to Receive Caritas Award

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March 24, 2009

Two students and three graduates from the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John's University will be honored during the Caritas Award Ceremony Monday, April 6 in room 204C, Gorecki Dining and Conference Center, College of Saint Benedict, St. Joseph.
The event begins with a reception at 5 p.m., followed by the awards program at 5:30 p.m. The event is free and open to the public.

This year's recipients of the award are Ashleigh Leitch, CSB senior and political science major from Willmar, Minn.; John Smith, SJU senior and environmental studies major from Stillwater, Minn.; Marilyn and Joe Schmit, CSB alumna '56 and SJU alumnus '55, respectively; and Nick Davis, SJU alumnus '02.

The Caritas Awards were established in 1995 with support from an anonymous donor. Each year, a CSB alumna, a SJU alumnus, one upperclass student from CSB and one upperclass student from SJU are chosen to receive the Caritas Award, which recognizes commitment to both service and social justice. The alumnae/i receive $1,500 to give to a volunteer organization in their name, and each student receives $500 for a volunteer organization of their choice.
Leitch is passionate about addressing international women's issues from social, economic and legal standpoints. As Women's Issues Representative for the CSB Student Senate, Leitch organized the Women's Month 2007 initiatives. Through her service experience while studying abroad in Chile during fall semester 2007, she developed the idea of Banco Mariposa, a student-run micro-lending organization in partnership with CSB, which has since matured into an internship program for CSB and SJU students to work with Fondo Esperanza, a Chilean micro-lending organization. Leitch believes in using governmental and legal structures to work toward social justice. She interned for Sen.Amy Klobuchar in Washington, D.C., during summer 2007, and later volunteered with Anna Marie's Alliance as a Court Monitor. Leitch applied to the Peace Corps, and hopes to attend law school to become an international women's human rights attorney.

Smith has been involved with volunteering for several years. As a high school student in his hometown of Stillwater, he helped lead a mission trip to Guatemala and worked with his dad to build and maintain houses for single mothers in transition. At CSB and SJU, John has been a tutor-mentor for the Fast Forward Youth Program and a co-leader for an Alternative Break Experience trip. As a former president and treasurer of Echo, a CSB and SJU environmental action club, he led CSB and SJU into the original Campus Energy Wars in 2007 and has worked to unite CSB and SJU to state and nationwide opportunities through the Trans-campus Energy Action Movement (TEAM MN). He is currently running two independent projects: to raise $100,000 for the CSB and SJU Green Funds, and a business solution for city-scale sustainability networking and communication titled The Whole City Research Group.

The Schmits have spent their entire 52 years of married life working for social justice on a local, national and global level. They pressured their elected representatives in the 1980s to stop funding the contra rebels in Nicaragua and spoke out against the production of land mines and nuclear weapons. Marilyn was arrested three times for protesting aid to the contra rebels and is a member of Women Against Military Madness. She gave 30 talks after her trip to Nicaragua in 1985. Joe raised eyebrows at a San Francisco physics conference in 1985 when he asked his colleagues for a moment of silence on the 40th anniversary of the atomic bomb attack on Hiroshima, Japan. Currently, Joe is an electrician for Habitat for Humanity, and has done taxes for low income and elderly people for 18 years. They both actively support efforts to close the School of the Americas, Fort Benning, Ga., provide supplies for needy school children in Nicaragua and struggling families in Mexico, and sponsor the Marilyn Scholl Schmit Scholarship for Peace Studies at CSB.

Davis has been an advocate for educational justice for many years. Upon graduating from SJU, he entered the Peace Corps in Guinea in July 2003. There, he taught English at a rural high school and undertook a number of projects with the help of his Guinean friends and colleagues in Yembering. They planted trees, established a gardening co-op, cleaned up the local market and organized student theater productions and regional youth conferences. Davis extended his Peace Corps contract in Guinea for a third year, working as a consultant for a small grassroots organization in the city of Kankan. During this time, he helped the organization JADE create a center for homeless street children. Since his return to the U.S. in late 2006, Davis has been teaching adult basic education and English as a second language with Literacy Volunteers of Maricopa County, Arizona. He is currently applying to MBA programs to pursue a career in international nonprofit management.