Alumna Feels ‘Responsibility to the World,’ & Her Actions Reflect It
Mary Beth Schluckebier ’09 chooses her words carefully when she describes her responsibilities at the Providence Center, a faith-based neighborhood outreach organization in Philadelphia that offers educational opportunities to residents young and old. As the center’s resource development coordinator, Schluckebier makes it clear she isn’t doing charity work or giving a handout to the people in her community.
“I’m just really walking with people,” Schluckebier says. “I’m accompanying them – being present and meeting them where they’re at.”
It might seem like a small distinction, but it’s an important one. The assistance Schluckebier is able to provide – fundraising, grant writing and developing community education programs in north Philadelphia – isn’t a result of her own inherent worth. Schluckebier knows in a different world, she could easily be the one in need.
Schluckebier remembers when her perspective of social justice changed. During her junior year at The University of Scranton when she was studying abroad in El Salvador, she had a conversation with her housemate Teresita, a fellow student at the University of Central America. Sitting in their house, Tere shared the story of her mother’s suffering and death from stomach cancer. In El Salvador, as in many other developing countries, people do not have the access to the medical treatment needed for cancer.
Schluckebier struggled with the weight of Tere’s words. When people got sick, they went to the hospital, she thought. Not having the opportunity to treat cancer is not a part of the reality in the United States.
So, what was the difference between the two of them? Both students were bright and ambitious. Both were accomplished and on the verge of graduation. Why did Tere have to deal with this tragedy and not her? Schluckebier never found the answer to her question during her time in El Salvador. Instead she found a close friend in Tere and something even more meaningful: an overwhelming sense of gratitude and also responsibility.
In addition to taking classes in El Salvador, Schluckebier worked at a women’s co-op where she met others who shared Tere’s optimism amid tragedy. While financially poor, the people of San Salvador had a profound spiritual wealth. They were open and inviting in a way she’d never encountered in North America. “It was startling,” Schluckebier recalls. “It was a transformative experience.”
Today, Schluckebier devotes her work to people whose stories slip through the cracks, particularly immigrants. In addition to managing volunteers and hosting conversational English classes at the Providence Center, Schluckebier also works for the Justice For Immigrants Campaign, a campaign working to educate the public about immigration issues in the United States and create political will for positive immigration reform.
Schluckebier brings a unique perspective and maturity to social justice, says former Providence Center Executive Director Bethany Welch. “She has a deep sense of joy and humility,” Welch explains. “She doesn’t assume that because she has skill sets or education that she’s somehow better than the people we’re working with.”
Schluckebier says her desire for social justice started with her family and was cultivated and encouraged at Scranton. “The sense of community that I experienced among my friends, professors, mentors and classmates has undoubtedly shaped much of who I am,” she explains. “I was empowered by my experiences in the Community Outreach Office, the JUSTICE Club, and the Women’s Center, and I felt constantly supported by friends and mentors like Pat Vaccaro G’92 (the University’s director of the Center for Service and Social Justice).”
The same support she received is being paid forward to her Philadelphia community today. “I think it’s a Jesuit thing,” Schluckebier explains. “I feel a great responsibility to the world, and I think I have the opportunity to raise up people’s voices who aren’t necessarily heard.”
To expand her reach as an advocate, Schluckebier is attending Temple University School of Law this fall. She’s attending classes in the evening and continues to work for the Justice for Immigrants Campaign during the day.
Welch says she looks forward to seeing the impact Schluckebier has once she graduates from Temple.
“I think Mary Beth can go as far and wide as she wants,” Welch says. “She has the complete package.”