St. Luke's School in New Canaan and Stamford-based Inspirica are launching a new effort to build bridges between the very different organizations.
The venture seeks to increase understanding of the work needed to fulfill Inspirica's mission of breaking the cycle of homelessness. It is a goal Inspirica -- a local homeless shelter that also provides transitional housing, education and career development -- has been working toward for years, and one that St. Luke's -- a prep school with a yearly tuition of more than $30,000 -- is "thrilled" to pursue, according to Head of School Mark Davis.
"It's a great example of how when like-minded organizations discover each other, great things can happen," Davis said Friday. "We will combine forces so there's not only benefits to the clients at Inspirica who need all kinds of resources, but also a great opportunity to raise awareness among our students about homelessness and public service in general. People in both organizations will be strengthened by this."
The alliance, which grew organically as the result of several smaller meetings between the two groups, will spur a wide range of projects. For example, St. Luke's teachers will help Inspirica staff develop courses in the shelter's education program and youth center, and Inspirica children will visit St. Luke's and take part in outings and day trips to museums, exposing them to cultural experiences they otherwise would not have access to.
"It's really a chance to bring together two entities that are different but need to understand each other," said Jason T. Shaplen, Inspirica's CEO.
And that involves deliberate steps that ensure the partnership is a give-and-take, rather than a "charity experience" for the St. Luke's students.
"So often, students are asked to do charity work ... and it makes them feel good to have interacted with a different population so they can go home at night and not think about it anymore," Davis said. "But what this does that is so different, is it focuses on initiatives that benefit both organizations, so that it's not just about St. Luke's in New Canaan reaching down and helping a charitable organization. It's about mutual engagement where the students and the adults in both organizations are strengthening themselves."
As charity trips in third-world portions of the world grow more popular for Fairfield County students, Shaplen said they needn't look so far to make a real difference and grow as people themselves.
"There are 46 million people in the nation right here in poverty. That's one in every 6.25 adults, one in every 4.5 children," Shaplen said Friday. "You don't need to go to Africa to see these problems. They're right here at home, and this strategic partnership will in part help kids and even staff understand that."
He's hoping the exchange will result in more than just a deepened understanding and empathy for how the other halves live, but that it could also build a pathway toward scholarship opportunities at St. Luke's for some children who live in the shelter, which Davis said he "can't imagine why that wouldn't happen." But in the beginning, Davis and Shaplen are simply focused on beginning what will be a years-long partnership with a single step.
"We're working on a way for the kids to get together, meet each other and spend time with each other so the first time they're together isn't on a school bus to a field trip," Shaplen said. In the coming weeks, Inspirica students will visit St. Luke's classes as they study the cultural and economic significance behind homelessness, to add local weight to the issue and answer questions candidly. St. Luke's students will begin immersion in Inspirica's mission by shadowing employees.
"I want our students to be fundamentally transformed by this," Davis said. He noted the school's motto "Enter to learn -- go forth to serve" is "more than just seven words that sound nice together," rather it is a mandate to expand his students' minds with opportunities exactly like the partnership popping up at Inspirica.
The groups have been working together for a short amount of time; the new partnership is an extension of clusters of students at St. Luke's volunteering in Stamford on several occasions. And while Inspirica was known at St. Luke's LifeWorks for more than a century until a rebranding in March, 2012, the similarity is simply serendipitous.
"It's purely coincidental that the founder of St. Luke's, in 1928 named the school because St. Luke was the patron saint of mental and physical health," Davis said. "But that coincidence -- it's like it was meant to be."
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