During my time at Valparaiso University, I have had the opportunity to get involved in the Social Action Leadership Team, or SALT, a student group that works for social justice through education and service. This organization has existed on campus since the 1980s and has a long tradition of doing service-based non-profit work locally, domestically, and internationally. Though SALT has an established campus presence, the work that we do over the course of the school year is largely determined by the students who are involved in the organization at a particular time. For instance, during the fall semester, SALTers participate in focus groups which work closely with an existing non-profit organization to educate both the campus and the community about a particular injustice. The benefit in working in relatively autonomous small groups is that we actively create our own goals for the semester, including advocating, educating, fundraising, and volunteering. Through this experience, we gain the knowledge and skills necessary for non-profit work. As the mission statement reads, SALTers become “equipped to lead lives of social justice and serve as agents for positive change in their communities.”
Effective philanthropy often starts with discerning what you are passionate about and aligning those passions with the missions of existing organizations. In order to better understand our passions and eventually choose the topics for our focus groups, the members of SALT go through an important discernment process. During one of the first meetings of the school year, we have “Passions Night” where SALTers have the opportunity to shout out the social injustices they are most passionate about changing. This may seem discouraging to have a compiled list of many of the worst injustices that occur in the world (e.g. human trafficking, environmental degradation, genocide); however, this creates a foundation for understanding the scale of the injustices that exist and also what is reasonable for us to try to change. The difficult fact is that we cannot solve every injustice. However, we do have the opportunity to make an impact on specific problems. The meeting after Passions Night, SALTers can advocate for the topics about which they are most passionate. This is an important step of the decision-making process because we get to hear about peoples’ personal experiences and get a sense of what issues matter to them. And from there, we vote – everyone in the room gets a vote and the top four responses become our focus groups. Because the topics reflect the passions of the current SALTers, there is always a wide variety in the issues chosen. This year, our focus groups for this semester are: bullying/self-esteem issues, food issues and starvation, mental health awareness, and random acts of kindness. The most interesting part of this entire process is the personal connections made through advocating for the issues. Knowing why it matters, well…matters.
If you would like more information about the Social Action Leadership Team at VU, visit http://www.valpo.edu/chapel/salt/index.php