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Addressing Poverty Through Service

Empathy, love and respect. Three words rooted in the lessons that current volunteer Theresa Phur (Scranton, 2017-18) embraces ever since graduating from Notre Dame and serving with the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers, as a foreign language teacher in China. In some of the most remote areas of China, she worked among men and women with a dedication to serving God through their work with the most vulnerable and marginalized populations. Reflecting over the treatment of stigmatized communities and poverty in both China and the U.S. inspired her to return home to contribute to a community in need within the states. Her desire to become a part of the solution led her to join JVC.

The U.S. has the largest economy in the world – and while in China, Theresa reflected on how this makes the levels of poverty we have and the lack of support we provide to marginalized people more reprehensible.

“I observed a level of poverty that isn’t present in the developed world. Here in the U.S. exists a network of social services and public assistance that is backed by strong political institutions and wealth. However, as I compared the poverty I saw in China to the poverty I knew of in the U.S., I realized that it was difficult to make broad judgments of one country being ‘better off’ than another.”

In many ways, Theresa is following in her parents footsteps. She remembers, “my parents never explicitly told me ‘you need to volunteer’, but they led by example.” Like during Thanksgiving when her dad drove her and her brother to pick up food for Meals on Wheels.

“I didn’t initially understand why we had a car full of boxed meals, but our purpose started to make sense to me as I knocked on doors with my dad and handed food to elderly individuals.”

Her mom works at the local high school that has programming for students with developmental disabilities, so Theresa attended the Special Olympics events to support her mom’s students.

Through these experiences, she realized that not everyone has the same privileges she does and just how important it is to give back and uplift our brothers and sisters. As she reflects on these last two years, she’s realized that her experience in China and her JV year have had a mutual impact on one another. Serving internationally pushed her to return home to serve her community. As a volunteer, Theresa serves with the Women’s Resource Center in Scranton, which has helped to define her future goals.

She now says with confidence that her professional goal is to reduce the gaps we find in society. Whether that be reducing the gaps between socioeconomic levels or finding shared ideas between different belief systems or philosophies. Theresa finds that everyone has some responsibility in bringing people closer together.

Her service over the past couple years has helped expand the capacity of local social service organizations and has helped shaped what she now understands as her purpose in life. After studying China and spending extensive time there, Theresa plans to return. She would like to engage in development and help build opportunities for women.

Despite all of the perceived differences, we’re all human and dependent on one another for healthy communities. Living divided brings more difficulty all across society. With women like Theresa growing becoming leaders of tomorrow, we have hope the gaps will lessen and close.


Written By Bridget Barry (Scranton, 2015-16)