The Merciad

Students create social change

Marina Boyle, Staff writer

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The social summit of the year, Agents of Change, will take place on Feb. 17 in Meadville.

An annual event, Agents of Change brings socially engaged students and professionals together to influence our locality and wider world.

Agents of Change stemmed from a collaborative discussion among directors of Community Engagement in various regional universities. The conference now mobilizes college students and post-graduate service leaders to reflect on social issues and engage in change.

The conference will be hosted this year by Allegheny College with the theme of “Love in Action: Social Change.”

Regional students have the opportunity to connect with other individuals with similar interests and values. They will be able to discuss issues over the course of two meals, as well as in several breakout workshops.

There will also be a keynote presentation and other informal gathering time. Mercyhurst plans to bring a group to both watch and present on research.

Megan Quinones, sophomore Economics major, and Luis Flores, sophomore History and Economics double major, are two of the Mercyhurst students who issued a proposal to present at the summit. Their proposed co-presentation is a discussion about the complexities of immigration.

“Our aim is to start a much-needed conversation with the Erie community about the underlying historical and racial components of U.S. immigration policy,” said Quinones. “We will be discussing the difficulties of navigating the migratory process, and briefly introducing attendees to the basics by explaining how costs, language, form length, per-country limits and processing times impact the accessibility of the process.”

Following the conference theme of love in action, Quinones and Flores hope to facilitate honest and open discussion, promoting change through productive conversations.

“We will then engage in an honest discussion where attendees are invited to remove their filters and ask what they really want to know in whatever language they’d like to use for the purposes of addressing their concerns about immigrants,” Quinones said.

The “Love in Action” theme of the summit is focused on social change. The workshop categories offered throughout the day will include Beyond Tolerance, Diversity and Cross-Cultural Awareness, Capacity Building, Hunger and Food Security, Children and Youth, Housing and Homelessness, and Urban Renewal.

In addition, there will be an inspirational presentation from the keynote speaker of the event, Fred Williams.

Williams is the co-founder of Climate Changers Inc., along with Curtis Jones. The Erie organization has created a “Total Change Re-Entry Program,” addressing challenges faced by ex-offenders and providing opportunities to change the outcome, creating social change.

Williams is also the author of several books and the creator of a program called “Our Energy Within.” The program strives to teach at-risk students how to utilize their energy to prevent potentially risky behavior. As a certified Behavioral Specialist, Williams has taught Drug & Alcohol and Violence & Gambling Prevention in schools and counseled many students and families. He has over 25 years of counseling experience.

Williams is able to utilize his own past as an ex-offender to work with individuals in the justice system who are ready to turn their lives around and become productive agents of change in society.

A major goal of “Total Change Re-Entry Program” is to reduce the likelihood of relapse, and assisting individuals with reintegration into society.

“Total Change” has three phases, throughout which ex-offenders learn how to use self-efficacy to make better decisions, listen to advice on how to get along in society and practice social skills. The purpose and value of each individual is also emphasized, providing more tangible reasons for change.

Colin Hurley, director of Community Engagement, anticipates a successful experience for each student attending the conference.

“We are excited to bring a group of student, ‘change agents,’ to and from this conference. This leadership conference is designed to complement and build on the knowledge of student leaders who work within the realm of community engagement. I am excited for those wanting to attend to be more aware, educated and engaged,” Hurley said.

The collaborating institutions and organizations for the regional conference will include Allegheny College, Mercyhurst University, Gannon University, and the Lake Effect Leaders AmeriCorps VISTA program.

Community Engagement will cover the cost of registration (which includes meals) and transportation for Mercyhurst students. Anyone who is interested in attending can email Hurley at churley@mercyhurst.edu.

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Students create social change