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Caldwell, N.J., July 30, 2019 – High school and university students attending the annual Spirituality and Leadership Institute (SLI) at Caldwell University explored some of the deeper questions of life, like how to become a leader or how to develop their talents and gifts to serve others.

“Building Up Communities” was the theme of the institute that was held July 14-19 and included speakers and discussions that focused on topics like digital citizenship, contemplation and servant leadership.

Director of SLI, Kyle Bennett, Ph.D. said the students discussed how to serve their neighbors in their daily activities of talking, thinking and even tweeting. This, he said, will “show others an alternative way of living that promotes public justice and seeks the common good.”

“At SLI, we believe that leaders are those who are deliberate about how they engage in these activities and to what end,” said Bennett who is chair of the Department of Theology and Philosophy at the university.

Several students were moved by the presentation by Edwin from First Friends of NJ/NY, a nonprofit that works on behalf of detained immigrants and asylum seekers. Jeniffer Llivicota of Saint Vincent Academy in Newark said it opened her eyes to the needs of others. Llivicota and Riley Sikorski, a student from DePaul Catholic High School in Wayne, New Jersey, liked Edwin’s suggestion of becoming a pen pal for someone who is being held in a facility or is detained.  “It is easy to make a change. It is not hard to write a letter,” said Sikorski.

Monica Sullivan, a student at Dominican Academy in New York City, appreciated the presentation by artist Brother Mickey McGrath of the Oblates of St. Frances de Sales who spoke about art, imagination and social justice in creating hope.  “A simple drawing can change a world view,” she said.

Dr. Chris Cimorelli, assistant professor of theology and philosophy presented on contemplation and silence; Colleen O’Brien, director of campus ministry, spoke about leadership; and Bennett led a conversation on the importance of responsible digital citizenship.

“I’m confident that the next time they open their mouths or open Instagram on their phone they will think twice about what they’re doing,” said Bennett.

Brooke McPherson, a senior in the fall at Caldwell, worked on the institute as an undergraduate mentor for her second year in a row.  She was enthused that they were able to have deeper conversations about spiritual and social justice issues—a unique opportunity to have true dialogue with peers about important topics.

The group engaged in community service at Restore Native Plants in Oakland, New Jersey and took part in fun activities like taking in a movie, attending a Yankees game and going to a barbeque.

“Making new friends from different areas,” was one of the best parts for Kelly Raftery, also of DePaul Catholic High School.  “I hope the friendships last a lifetime,” said Llivicota. Ruth Amouh of Lacordaire Academy in Montclair also attended.

Caldwell University students Julianna Verso, Kassandra Pardo and Gary Striggles Jr. were also mentors.  Staff members who worked on the program were: Julie Kajouras, Dana McStowe and Allison Johansen.

The conference is made possible by a grant from the Lilly Endowment Inc.