College In Prison Program class holds fundraiser for Brenden’s Friday Backpack

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On March 17, a Communication 420: Communicating in Small Groups class, taught in the School for Professional Studies, raised more than $3,400 for an organization called Brenden’s Friday Backpack. It is not unusual to hear about social justice projects being held by Saint Louis University students, but this particular project is unique in that it was held by a class of Eastern Reception, Diagnostic and Correctional Center staff members though SLU’s College In Prison Program.

The SLU College In Prison Program is a program that brings college classes to the inmates and staff members at the prison in Bonne Terre, Mo. The program, which began in 2008, aims to give inmates a future when they leave the prison by providing them with an education. In addition to educating the inmates, the College In Prison Program also offers similar classes for the staff members of the prison.

“There are staff members who are earning an associates degree in the School of professional studies,” said Elizabeth Richard, professor in the Communication Department and the instructor of the Communicating in Small Groups class.  “And so at the same time we’re having the classes for the incarcerated students, there is a class that mirrors that on the outside that’s also happening at the same time. This is an opportunity for an underrepresented community to have a really great educational opportunity.”

The Communications class, taught by Richard, aims to promote communication and leadership skills while working in teams. As a part of the class, the students had to work together for five weeks to do a project that would in some way improve the community.

Three projects were proposed in the class, but the students decided to hold a fundraiser for the organization Brenden’s Friday Backpack.

Brenden’s Friday Backpack is an organization that works to curb the problem of childhood hunger. According to their website, the organization found that some school

children would leave school on Friday and not have the means or access to eat again until they returned to school on Monday. To combat this, Brenden’s Friday Backpack began sending children who exhibited the most need home on Friday with a backpack full of food so they would not go hungry over the weekend.

To raise money for the organization, the class held a trivia night which feature a food drive, a silent auction and a 50/50 raffle. The local community donated prizes and supplies to help the event run smoothly.

“The outpouring of support form the community was amazing,” Richard said. “They raised a ton of money and took in a lot of food donations. “

Kenneth Parker, a professor of Theology and the coordinator of the College in Prison Program, said that he thinks a project like this is a great education experience for the students in the program.

“This type of service learning project cultivates team work and interpersonal cooperation around a worthy cause,” Parker said. “I think Professor Richard’s work, and that of our students, is an example of cultivating that principle of becoming “men and women for others.” This can only have a positive effect, both at home, in the community, and in the prison.”

Richard agrees that this project was beneficial for the class that it taught the students to tackle the big problems they face head on and to not be afraid of challenges that might arise.

“What we wanted students to think about was that there are tons of reasons to say no to a huge project like this,” Richard said. “But it’s just to show that no matter what small thing we are capable of doing, that’s where great things come from. These small acts of kindness, these small good deeds can really turn into these huge things like this.”