O'Dowd senior Ariana taught sciences to grade-schoolers at Harbor House in Oakland, which sparked a career goal for her future. Courtesy of Bishop O'Dowd High School

At Bishop O’Dowd High School, every student is challenged to ask themself: “What kind of person do I want to be? What am I created to do?” The Anawim Project, a 60-plus-hour service commitment, helps them answer these questions. 

Completed alongside O’Dowd’s required Peace and Justice course, the Anawim Project challenges 11th- and 12th-grade students to work with local communities for justice, including environmental, economic, housing, racial justice, and more.

Open House Sun., Nov. 5, 11:30 a.m.–2:00 p.m. Bishop O’Dowd High School, 9500 Stearns Ave, Oakland. Details here.

“The Anawim Project is a chance for students to continue diving deep into Catholic social teaching, and to apply what they’ve learned to real life work,” says Molleen Dupree-Dominguez, chair of the Religious Studies Department. She smiles. “I’ve seen many students ignite a commitment for an issue or a community that they carry forward into their adult lives.” 

Social justice is central to O’Dowd’s mission, and every student graduates having completed at least 100 hours of service learning.

“We want our students to see the interconnectedness of all beings,” Molleen says. “We want them to understand how issues are linked together, and how we can impact systems in positive ways. We put a high priority on partnering with service agencies, reaching out beyond the borders of our campus, and having profound social justice learning experiences for students.” 

Ariana, Class of 2024

Anawim Project: Teaching science at Harbor House Justice Issue: Intergenerational Poverty

When Ariana saw the opportunity to teach science to grade-school kids at Harbor House in Oakland’s San Antonio neighborhood, she was stoked.

 “I have epilepsy, which originally got me interested in neuroscience,” Ariana says. “And I wanted to take my passion for science to the young kids at Harbor House, many of whom don’t get a lot of enrichment activities.” 

Ariana led a science project for grade-schoolers at Oakland’s Harbor House. Courtesy of Harbor House

Ariana dug in, developing fun and artistic lesson plans that got her students learning about chemistry, biology and ecology. “Seeing how enthusiastic the kids were, it made me really excited to keep teaching,” Ariana says. 

But it was upsetting, too. She learned from her Harbor House supervisor that many of the students came from families locked in intergenerational cycles of poverty. “It made me really aware of my privilege,” Ariana says. “It also showed me how important education is. How important it is to see a different path for yourself, even if your parents didn’t get to go to college.” 

Now Ariana is moving forward with new dedication to her life path. “I saw at Harbor House how important mental health is. It made me realize that giving young people support during this key developmental time in their lives is a total game changer,” she says. “Now I want to become a psychiatrist and serve young people in under-resourced communities.”

London, Class of 2024

Anawim Project: Urban farming with UC Gill Tract Community Farm Justice Issue: Food Insecurity

While volunteering at the UC Gill Tract Community Farm in Albany for his Anawim Project, O’Dowd senior London learned about the effects of poverty and homelessness, but also saw “a lot of human goodness.” Courtesy of Bishop O’Dowd High School

It all started for London when he watched a video about the “Gangsta Gardener” in Los Angeles. “This ‘Gangsta Gardener’ decided to make a difference by planting food in his own front yard in South Central LA, and then he started branching out to more land. I thought that was really interesting!” 

For his Anawim Project, London volunteered at the UC Gill Tract Community Farm in Albany, which offers harvested food to families in exchange for help weeding, planting, and watering. The experience was eye opening.

 “I saw how many people in the East Bay are struggling with homelessness, poverty, lack of transportation, and just isolation,” London says. “But I also saw a lot of human goodness. I saw how much passion there is in the local community to not only provide nutritious food to people who need it, but to also give respect and dignity to everyone, too.”  

The experience made London hungry for more. “I might want to be an environmental scientist,” he says. “I learned from urban farming how important community is and how much more we can achieve when we work together. Now I want to keep teaching people to plant their own gardens, so they don’t have to rely on the Dollar Store or liquor stores for food, and they can feel proud of what they grew for themselves.”

Maya, Class of 2024

Anawim Project: Working with special needs children at the SPCA Justice Issue: Disability Inclusion 

O’Dowd senior Maya worked with children at the SPCA. Courtesy of Bishop O’Dowd High School

“If your child is born with a disability, life is so much more complicated,” says Maya. “My aunt had a brain tumor as a young child and it affected her development. So working with people who have special needs is important to me.” 

For Maya’s Anawim Project she volunteered with the SPCA, helping children with autism, OCD and ADHD interact with animals. “Being able to play with dogs and cats helped them to socialize with each other, and see where they have common interests,” Maya says. 

The project got Maya thinking more broadly about inclusivity. “Working with these kids on a regular basis made me aware of how frustrating it is when systems don’t support your needs,” Maya says. “It gave me passion to make sure that the right supports are available in mainstream classrooms, so that all kids are getting what they need to participate and be included.” 

Maya wants to go to medical school, maybe to become a veterinarian. “The kids’ disabilities influenced the way they thought, and how they saw the world,” Maya says. “It gave me the skills to better understand what another person is going through.”

Ethan, Class of 2024

Anawim Project: Teaching coding at Girls Inc. Justice Issue: Underrepresentation in STEM

O’Dowd senior Ethan taught computer coding at Girls Inc. Courtesy of Bishop O’Dowd High School

Ethan is fluent in four computer programming languages. But it was through his older sister Abby, who is studying environmental science at Brown University, that he learned how difficult it can be for women to pursue careers in STEM fields.

“My goal is to bring STEM education opportunities to underrepresented communities,” he says.

Ethan did his Anawim Project with Girls Inc. in Alameda, teaching computer science classes to 3rd-4th grade girls from different socioeconomic backgrounds. “I want to show them that coding is fun and rewarding, but also feasible,” Ethan says. “I want the girls to see that they could have a future in technology.”

Pretty quickly, Ethan learned what challenges the girls were facing. “My supervisor shared that many of the students were impacted by bullying and struggled with body image issues and low self-esteem,” he said. “So I focused on making sure that my classroom was a safe, positive place. I want the girls to feel empowered in what they can DO and not feel that their power is dictated by external appearances. I want them to be proud of solving difficult problems, and to build confidence in their skills and abilities.” 

“Working with these girls brings back memories of how my sister felt intimidated as a young woman participating in a male-dominated field.”

Ethan completes his Anawim Project having learned not just how to be a better teacher, but also the power of empathy. “I’m passionate about using knowledge to make positive change,” he says. “My project showed me how to bring more love and kindness into teaching. I really hope that the girls I work with gain a spark for coding and go on to join more women in STEM fields!”

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