Two Forest Park teens know the importance of fighting for social justice and bringing their peers on board as well.
Lexi Hayworth and Katie Hazen help lead MICAH, 6:8, a group at Trinity High School that raises awareness of issues provide ways for students to respond to issues and to serve the community.
Service is encouraged at the River Forest high school. But to Hazen and Hayworth, who are both juniors, giving back and raising awareness of injustice are important values to live as well. They are, they said, values important to their faiths - Hayworth is Lutheran; Hazen is Catholic.
Those notions are reflected in the concerns that students have raised and worked on since the club began in the last decade.
Each year the students choose a different social justice and community in need every year. Their current focus is on the elderly. Later this month teens will go to the Oak Park Arms and learn about the lives of seniors there. From there the group will raise awareness of the need to respect the lives and experiences of the elderly.
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Last year MICAH concentrated their efforts at the Peace Corner, a place about 10 minutes from River Forest that provides recreation and educational opportunities to young people in Austin. The girls tutored, played basketball and hung out with the young people. Through MICAH, the school dedicated fundraising to Peace Corner.
Their experience there was sobering, they said, and they hope it will bridge the gap between the students of Trinity and their peers in Austin.
“We talked about school and their lives. I learned how similar our lives are to theirs and how we should not take what we have for granted,” Hayworth said. “I learned to appreciate things more. They really are not so different from us.”
Hazen said she found herself breaking down the stereotypes she had about Austin. “I use what I’ve learned and seen to tear down some walls,” she said.
MICAH also has concentrated on international issues. Two years ago, and into last year as well, the focus had been around the Invisible Children. A documentary, Invisible Children spelled out the human rights abuses of the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda, led by Joseph Kony. The story of the children in the film has helped build a grassroots movement that has mobilized teens and others to raise money to rebuild the war-torn schools in Northern Uganda.
Hayworth and Hazen said they showed the original documentary and others to the Trinity community, conducted forums at school and raised the money to support the schools. They also took their action one step further and wrote letters to President Barack Obama and members of Congress urging them to take action on the issue.
The group has grown involvement; at the most recent meeting 40 girls came out to help out, said Tara Suchland, Trinity's campus minister, because of their inspiration and passion.
MICAH is an extension of what the pair has done throughout their lives. Hayworth has volunteered as a counselor at Camp Soar, where she led activities and played with children with a range of disabilities from autism to spinal bifida and has become passionate about issues focusing on the disabled.
“I want to spread the word to end the use of the word retarded,” she said. “It’s hurtful to kids and families. Kids may not realize that it’s mean. But it’s rude. It’s a form of bullying. I think kids my age would be more receptive to not using it if they hear from a peer their age who has worked with special needs kids. When I hear it being said I use it as a teaching moment. It carries more weight that way,” she said.
Hazen works in the soup kitchen when PADS is set up at Ascension Church, her home parish, and is passionate about issues related to hunger. She also has packed pouches of nutrient-laden food for children in the developing world.
In addition, she has become engaged with Peacebuilders, an initiative started by the late Joseph Cardinal Bernardin that seeks to prepare Catholic youth for active leadership roles in peacemaking, reconciliation and conflict transformation.
It’s really important to keep working on a more unified global community, she said. And then she used the adage that has come to mean the value of taking action.
“Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he will eat for the rest of his life,” she said. To help someone else is rewarding and enriching.”