Thursday, May 20, 2010

Young Hawks with and for others...

You know how passionate I am about Saint Joseph’s basketball. I share a few quick but amazing stories about three Hawks today. Two of them you may have seen on the sidelines as senior managers and the third ‘just a face in the crowd.’

With all of the negative press heard too often about those in and around the collegiate sporting community here are three minutes that will let you discover the spirit and accomplishments of these tremendous members of the Class of 2010. There are pieces in here that will resonate with each of you.

Joe Cabrey

Saint Joseph's University Hawk Profiles - Molly Porth '10

English and Spanish
Havertown, Pa

Molly Porth has taken full advantage of her time on Hawk Hill. Always involved and committed to her studies, Molly’s list of activities and achievements is long, and “Fulbright recipient” can now be added to that list. She received the prestigious scholarship to teach English in Mexico next year, a fusion of her interests in travel and teaching.

Molly, a double major in English and Spanish, first got the idea to apply for the Fulbright when studying abroad in Santiago, Chile, her junior year. She was nearing the end of her time there, and wasn’t ready to leave. Her father, Steve Porth ’80, Ph.D., associate dean of the Erivan K. Haub School of Business and professor of management, who was visiting at the time, suggested the Fulbright as a way to continue immersing herself in the Spanish language after graduation.

Teaching isn’t a new interest for Molly. During the spring semester of 2009, she was a fulltime student and also taught high school students Spanish at her alma mater, Country Day School of the Sacred Heart in Bryn Mawr, Pa. Molly is excited at the prospect of teaching again. “I enjoy working with teenage students,” she says. “My age offers me a unique opportunity to serve as mentor as well as a teacher, and relate to them in a more direct way, like their peers would.”

Considering her background, Steve said he “wasn’t at all surprised that Molly received the Fulbright” but was still extremely delighted that she did. Father and daughter will be heading to El Hongo and Tijuana, Mexico, this May, as part of the Summer Immersion Program. Steve is the faculty facilitator of the trip and Molly is the student leader.

During her time at Saint Joseph’s, Molly has shown her school spirit by managing the basketball team for four years. She has also been a part of Harambee African Awareness and a member of the honors program and Jesuit honors society. She has been a Summer Scholar multiple times, researching how media portrays the pharmaceutical industry. Her younger brother, Leo, is a freshman at SJU and will continue her research this summer.

Molly isn’t sure what she’ll do after her year in Mexico, but all the possibilities she has in mind relate to her passions for the Spanish language, traveling and teaching. She is considering pursuing more teaching opportunities abroad but is also interested in entering a graduate program in either Immigration Law or Ethnography, which deals with travel writing and sociological research.

Saint Joseph's University Hawk Profiles - Michael Mungai '10

Dagoretti, Kenya

Michael Mungai's journey to Hawk Hill began in Africa with a photo of a snow-covered Barbelin bell tower. Along the way to graduation, worked to found both Harambee, a student-run group promoting awareness of African culture, and Dagoretti4kids, an educational outreach program for homeless Dagoretti youths, and has been involved with other international advocacy effortsreach program that now provides housing and schooling to more than 30 street children.

When Mungai was just 14 years old, he left his home to live on the streets of Dagoretti, Kenya to help ease the financial burden on his mother, who cared for Mungai and his three siblings as a single parent. Living as a Dagoretti street boy, Mungai experienced great pain and hunger, but his selfless decision showed his charitable nature, always looking to give even when he, himself, had nothing.

“She was struggling to feed us and I wanted to help, so I said ‘I’m going to be a man’ and went out on my own,” the economics major said.

While living on the streets of Dagoretti, Mungai met Christof Putzel, a visiting American filmmaker from the University of Connecticut. At the time, Putzel was filming “Left Behind,” a documentary on the country’s AIDS orphans and street children. Mungai built a close relationship with Putzel, acting as his guide and translator.

Before leaving Kenya, Putzel introduced Mungai to Bonnie Graboski, an Allentown, Pa., woman volunteering at an orphanage. Graboski took Mungai off the streets and encouraged him to return to school, which he was forced to leave due to his family’s financial difficulties. Graboski funded Mungai’s education through the end of high school.

“She is the most important woman in my life after my mother,” Mungai said. Together they enlisted the help of volunteers and sponsors to form Dagoretti4kids (D4K) in 2003, an outreach program that now provides housing and schooling to more than 30 street children.

Mungai was introduced to Saint Joseph’s University by Mark Orrs ’03, who had seen Mungai in Putzel’s documentary and sought him out while volunteering at an African orphanage. The two quickly became good friends, and Orrs suggested that Mungai consider attending SJU.

“I remember seeing St. Joe’s for the first time on Mark’s computer and seeing Barbelin covered in snow, and thinking that I wanted to be there,” Mungai said.

Orrs was able to secure a full scholarship for Mungai from University President Timothy R. Lannon, S.J. But like many international students, Mungai faced difficulties in assimilating to American culture, improving his English and making new friends as a freshman. That didn’t stop him from getting involved, however.

“I looked for people I could identify with, but there weren’t many people who knew much about my country and its culture,” Mungai said. “That’s when I decided to start Harambee to spread awareness and address the lenses of misconception people see my country through.”

In its four years on campus, Harambee has worked to educate the university community about the African continent through events such as African Awareness Week, which included a food-tasting event that allowed students to get a “taste of African culture and African food,” according to Mungai. The organization also works to raise money to fight the HIV/AIDs epidemic in the country by selling necklaces and bracelets made by HIV-positive women. The money is meant to help them afford food and medicine. Harambee also works to support D4K.

Following graduation, Mungai hopes to have a career in social justice and is considering graduate school, where he would work toward a master’s degree in international marketing.

“There was a time when I thought social justice could be achieved through aid and intervention, but I’ve learned from my classes that sustainable social justice is related to the overall economic welfare of a country and that it is a product of that market,” Mungai said.

Saint Joseph's University Hawk Profiles - Brittany Keesling '10

West Chester, Pa.

History major Brittany Keesling has quite the resume. She’s worked as manager of the Saint Joseph’s University men’s basketball team, distinguished herself as a stand out student, and babysat regularly in her free time. She’s also helped with the production of a documentary about young girls in Kenya, utilized two Summer Scholars awards to research health and education issues in the Nairobi Province, maintains a Web site devoted to raising money for rehabilitated Kenyan street boys, and is financing a little Kenyan girl’s private education.

Keesling’s devotion to service will continue in the summer following the 2010 Commencement at Saint Joseph’s, when she’ll spend time expanding her own horizons while helping others. In the next four months, the West Chester native plans to travel to Mexico, South Africa and Kenya – and not simply for her own enjoyment.

In Mexico, she plans to challenge herself by learning Spanish through an SJU summer immersion program in the company of 2010 Fulbright Scholar Molly Porth. In South Africa, she’s slated to teach young girls about hygiene and health issues at a United Nations-sponsored school. And in Kenya, she’ll lead a group of fellow students offering service to Dagoretti4Kids (D4K), an educational outreach program based in the village of Saigon, which is located in the Dagoretti Province. D4K was founded in part by fellow SJU graduate Michael Mungai ’10, in 2003.

Keesling’s passion for serving the international community started with a friendship developed during a philosophy class, where she met Mungai, an international student who grew up on the streets of Dagoretti. Over the course of the semester, the two became good friends, and Keesling grew more and more fascinated by Mungai’s culture and experiences. Toward the end of the spring semester of 2008, he asked Keesling to collaborate on a documentary project he had planned in Dagoretti, funded by the University’s Summer Scholars program.

“It was an opportunity to dive into the culture with someone that I knew really well,” says Keesling. “So I jumped on it.”

The project, a documentary about teenage girls’ use of sanitary napkins and the impact the lack of such items has on their education, required Keesling to interview the teens and their families, while Mungai conducted research. But while their project centered on teen girls, the two stayed at D4K, which houses former street boys between the ages of 8 and 20.

“They became like my little brothers,” she says. “Inside those gates, you’re safe and happy. Everyone wants to be there.”

Throughout the course of the project, a woman from the village, Margaret, then 18, helped Keesling translate during interviews. As the weeks progressed, Margaret’s mother, Grace, and Keesling’s mother, Nina, who traveled to Dagoretti with the two SJU students, became close – so close in fact, that Nina is funding Margaret’s nursing education at a college in western Kenya.

One year later, in the summer of 2009, Keesling found herself the recipient of another Summer Scholars award, this time to return to Kenya with classmates Molly Porth and Reggie Alberto to study the public education system.

“Kenya’s public system is, fortunately, free from kindergarten until eighth grade,” explains Keesling, “but there aren’t enough teachers or facilities. In the school where I worked, the student-to-teacher ratio is about sixty-to-one, and the average for the region is about forty-five-to-one. At the end of the summer all I could think was, ‘what can I do for these kids, on a local level?’”

This second project prompted Keesling to think of ways to impact the lives of Dagoretti’s youth locally, believing that she can – and will – make a difference in their lives. The result was the redesigned D4K Web site,, now maintained by Keesling and her mother.

“The boys in D4K go to private schools, so their educations need to be funded. I wanted to help by raising funds from the United States, and I realized that one way to do that was through online donations,” says Keesling. “I want to promote a second chance for these boys – to turn their challenges into opportunities.”

In addition to her work on the Web site and her continued dedication to D4K, Keesling is also helping a young girl she met during her first visit to Dagoretti in 2008. Mercy (pronounced “Marcie”) was just 10 when the two met, but a bond formed quickly. Now, back in Philadelphia, Keesling is helping Mercy much like Nina is helping Margaret: by funding her education. For about 20 American dollars a month, Keesling is paying for Mercy to attend a private primary school in Kenya, and hopes in the future to make enough money to be able to send Mercy to college.

Keesling hopes to help initiate an immersion program at SJU in the course of the next few years, with the goal of creating a lasting connection between the University students and the village.

“There are things you have to be committed to. There are so many more steps that can be taken,” says Keesling. “Helping Mercy, and D4K are just a few.”

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