Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
In late December, the Lang Center for Civic and Social Responsibility granted the $10,000 Lang Opportunity Scholarship to six sophomores.
The scholarship program is aimed towards helping the recipients realize their goals in addressing social problems that are of particular concern to them.
The chosen action areas of the chosen Lang Scholars this year include financial security, education and immigration.
Ariel Finegold, an Economics major with a “passion for financial literacy education,” hopes to institute a financial counseling program in Chester. The goal of the project is to train interested Swatties “to teach classes for Chester residents in the evenings and weekends through the Delaware County Asset Development Organization.”
Finegold believes that “personal finance remains confusing and enigmatic” for the financially fragile American and “a solid understanding about financial health is as much a right as healthcare coverage.” As well as being a SAM (student academic mentor) and a SHC (sexual health counselor), Finegold enjoys “assisting others find the knowledge they need to make informed decisions.”
She has been inspired by the work of dedicated elected officials such as her district’s congressman Allyson Schwartz (PA-13), who supported “the ideals of National Save for Retirement Week.”
Finegold’s project comes in large part from her service as a volunteer for VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) last year. After helping calculate a $4000 tax refund for a young low-income mother, Finegold discovered that the mother was not sure how best to pay off accumulated debt and save enough for the future. She decided to help families such as hers with federal taxes and to “educate them on best money practices from budgeting prudently to saving for their future.”
The social cause Avilash Pahi feels most strongly about is “working towards the betterment of children suffering from learning disabilities.”
After setting up a library in the Manovikas Kendra Special School for disadvantaged children in Kolkata, India over the summer, Pahi wanted to continue his engagement in this field.
While on his shift in the McCabe library one day, Pahi had an epiphany.
Shelving books and looking around at the “gargantuan numbers surrounding [him],” he realized that in the course of his stay at Swarthmore, he would not be able to read many of the books. “But, there existed children back home who went through school without having access to even a fraction” of these resources.
His plan includes opening six more libraries and creating an “Inter-Library Loan System” (similar to the Tri-Co one) to “benefit the maximum number of people in the community.”
One of the major challenges he faces is the lack of any “precursor in the community that [he] plans to implement [the program] in.”
Suppliers charging higher prices for materials amidst excessive red tape are additional problems. But having grown up in the city of Kolkata, Avilash has developed a network of business contacts from whom he can purchase the resources for the library at reasonable prices.
Maria Gloria Robalino aims to “resurrect those means of communication that are private, content-oriented and physical” and combine her interest in the Hispanic population in the United States through her Letters to the Past and Present program.
Her volunteer work in New York City two summers ago made her aware of the “emotional detachment” between immigrants and their families, since many immigrants spend years without going home.
Establishing a letter-based correspondence will provided a “meaningful bridge of communication” to keep their relationships alive, since “letters are tangible” and may give them a sense of having an “actual part of each other”.
Robalino also plans to work with four different churches in New York City to create an ESL (English as a Second Language) workshop, where “immigrants acquire English skills while they write letters to their loved ones.”
This may “broaden their job opportunities and communication boundaries in the US” while facilitating emotional reconnection.
One of the primary goals of the project, though, is “flexibility and accessibility for everyone.” This may help overcome the many obstacles Robalino foresees in the future like the diverse education backgrounds possible participants might have.
In some cases, the language acquisition component may be too difficult for some, for whom she will primarily focus on the emotional reconnection part.
Nick Allred’s idea for his project assisting high school students from Chester, PA with their financial aid applications stemmed from his earlier work at the College Access Center of Delaware County.
His experience highlighted how financial aid “was a greater challenge than the college application per se.”
Moreover, Allred sees the situation as “a catch-22, [where] students with the most need have the fewest options.”
To help hone and develop the skills required for the task he as set out for himself, Allred is looking at internships to better familiarize himself with the financial aid process, “perhaps with an organization that dos similar work with students.”
Although he was responding to wants and needs of the local community, the project became quite important to him on a personal level.
“My mother’s father worked as a taxi driver in the evenings to put himself through college; my father’s father went to school on the GI Bill,” said Allred.
Both were the first in their families to go to college and “they were able to do so because a will was matched with a way.”
Allred wants to help pass that opportunity on to the next generation of students.
Sonja Spoo’s program in collaboration with Dawn’s Place, “a sanctuary for sexually exploited and trafficked women in Philadelphia, PA will provide literacy and GED (General Education Development) tutoring programs as well as general support services to women.”
Spoo’s church sent a group to work in rescue and recovery in Malaysia, and her work with the church on raising awareness on the issue of human trafficking motivated her to “find ways to help the fight closer to home.”
Success for her would entail seeing the women she works with complete the GED and gain economic independence.
The target community of the program goes through “horrific trauma, everything from drug abuse with children to post-traumatic stress disorder.”
These memories will ensure that her program will be a “very trying experience for all involved.” But she believes that “open communication and support” can ensure success.
Victoria Pang loves “working with students and thinking about larger equity issues in public education.”
After working for the non-profit organization Chester Education Foundation in the summer, Victoria was inspired to plan to create Chester Serves. She envisions it as developing into a “student-led program in which older Chester students identify and actively seek out community service projects they would like to implement based on the needs they perceive.”
Her project was created in response to two community needs.
She primarily wanted “to respond to the need for an infrastructure through which older students could do service work.”
As a secondary goal, she wanted “older students to develop positive relationships with younger students.” Funding cuts this fall left many elementary students “without enrichment in the evening”; she hopes to help fill this void.
In terms of safety, transportation and structured interaction, Pang said her project idea is “very ambitious logistically.”
She plans to rely heavily on “Lang Center staff, community partners, Swarthmore faculty, and the students themselves as [she] faces these challenges.”