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The e-newsletter of Chestnut Hill College

Into the Heart of the City

Into the Heart of the City

Students practiced lobbying skills at the offices of Pennsylvania senators. Here, they pose outside the office of Senator Bob Casey.

Twenty-four years ago, when Marie Conn, professor of religious studies, joined the faculty of Chestnut Hill College, she began to teach the course, Heart of the City, which she taught with various co-teachers until 2008. Last fall, she revived the course and was joined in the classroom by Ryan Murphy, director of service-learning.

This 6-credit service-learning course focuses on urban poverty and provides an examination of this complex issue through both a theological and sociological lens.

“This class moves students from classroom learning and beyond, to the site [where they perform service] where they see poverty first-hand, and to lobbying, where they learn about the justice angle — where they learn how to change the issues that perpetuate poverty,” says Murphy.

The service-learning portion of the course is all-important and the students commit to four hours of service a week. This year, students joined staff at the One Less Foundation in Germantown, where they worked with people who are actively trying to get out of poverty. They helped with the organization’s social media campaign, “What Poverty Taught Me,” designed to change stereotypes about the poor and help move people toward self-sufficiency.

The four-year-old non-profit organization offers educational programs such as financial literacy for adults and literacy programs for high school students. Its primary goal is not to provide direct services to alleviate homelessness or hunger, but rather to help lift people out of poverty through outreach, advocacy and education.

At one point in the semester, the 10-member class traveled to Washington, D.C., where they met with representatives from NETWORK, the Catholic social justice lobbying group that educates, organizes and lobbies for economic and social justice. More information about the group is available at

The full day included a workshop that taught the students lobbying basics, along with some role-playing that preceded lunch in the Senate cafeteria and then meetings with staff from the offices of Pennsylvania’s Senator Bob Casey and Senator Pat Toomey, where they got to put their newfound lobbying skills into practice.

—Brenda Lange

Condensed from the spring 2016 issue of the Chestnut Hill magazine. Read the full story here.