OPEN Club welcomes Erie refugees


OPEN is a student organization dedicated to encouraging social change at Gannon University and in the Erie community. Members of the organization inspire students to explore the causes of hunger, homelessness and poverty issues in Erie.
Jesse Hubert, faculty adviser of OPEN and associate director of the Center for Social Concerns, said the organization gives students an opportunity to connect with their neighbors.
Even if students are not from the area, Erie is their home for nine months during the school year. Homelessness and poverty issues are prevalent in Erie. Just by walking through downtown between classes, students can see a variety of people walking alongside them. Sometimes, these people may dress differently or speak a different language. How do you react to them? Do you speak to them or smile in their direction?
OPEN educates its members about homelessness and how people deal with this issue on a daily basis. Moreover, the organization also addresses how refugees adapt to this country and how Gannon can play an integral part in helping them.
Erie is one of the top cities in Pennsylvania that accepts refugees. Last year, it brought in over 100 refugees from various countries. Refugees are an integral part of Erie’s culture. They are now American citizens, but they may not speak fluent English, have ever eaten hamburgers or been to a movie theater. So, how can we as a Gannon community help them?
OPEN established the motto in 2014 of “Open Hearts, Open Doors, Open Minds.” This is a year-long effort that stems from “Hunger and Homelessness Week” in the second week of November (13 – 19). During those days, OPEN organizes events to allow Gannon students to take part in making an effort in the lives of many individuals.
Since 2011, OPEN has restructured “Hunger and Homelessness Week” to help break down stereotypes of homelessness. After traveling to the Father McKenna Center, a men’s day shelter, in Washington D.C. on an Alternative Break Service Trip, students returned with a new perspective about homelessness and how it affects people every day. Together, students have developed events at Gannon to help educate people about homelessness, hunger and refugees.
OPEN is sponsoring four primary programs this year where students can contribute by getting to know their neighbors and making an effort to foster social change. There are other opportunities as well that will be developing over the course of the year.
The first event of the year will be “Baskets of Blessings.” OPEN partners with the CC Refugee Resettlement for this annual event. In past years, organizations and clubs at Gannon would sponsor a refugee family that had just arrived in the United States and buy culturally appropriate food for them. The food was placed in baskets and then hand-delivered to the families at their homes.
However, this year OPEN also wants to broaden ideas of what can go in the baskets. Refugee families usually have young children, so school supplies would be a great help as well. Hats, gloves or scarves can also be put in the baskets. To many families, this may be their first winter, so it is important that they have the proper gear. Another option is to put religious prayers or blessings in the family’s native language in each of the baskets.
If a group is interested in participating in Baskets of Blessings, the final day to register on OPEN’s EngageU page is Oct. 28. Once registered, each group will be matched with a refugee family. Hubert said she recognizes the importance of this project and how “it is built into Gannon’s fiber and identity to build relationships with our neighbors.”
Lydia Archinal, an OPEN student leader and junior social work major, initially joined the organization her freshman year. When delivering the baskets she said that the families were all very friendly and thankful, even if language was a barrier,
“Without words you can see how thankful they are,” Archinal said.

Once all the baskets have been collected but before they are delivered, OPEN will hold its annual “Penny Wars” Nov. 17 – 18. Each organization’s basket will be placed in the piano lounge area of Waldron, where students can “vote” for their favorite baskets with cash. All proceeds will be donated to the Second Harvest Food Bank, First Presbyterian Church of the Covenant Sunday Suppers or the CC Refugee Resettlement.
Another event held during Hunger and Homelessness week is “Soup with Substance.” This annual event will take place at 5 p.m. Nov. 17 in the Yehl Ballroom. The keynote address this year will be given by Danny Jones from the Erie School District.
Jones will share his experiences and knowledge about homelessness and poverty. He deals with students who are homeless in the Erie Public Schools on a daily basis and intends to shed light on this matter.
“Come to Soup with Substance to hear stories and challenge yourself to learn more,” Hubert said.
The Gannon family is welcome to come and to take advantage of this opportunity.
A new program that OPEN is beginning is the Oxfam Hunger Banquet on Nov. 15, where it hopes to educate people and expose them to a new way of learning about hunger and poverty. To participate, students attend the banquet and are randomly given a status. The higher level status will get plush seating and a hearty meal, while the middle and lower level status seating and meals will be a lot simpler.
Korey Mac Isaac, a student leader of OPEN and a sophomore legal studies major, is leading this project. Isaac assesses that hunger and poverty are troubling issues that some of Gannon’s students could be dealing with so it is important for students to learn more about this topic.
“It’s our family, it’s our students; it could happen to anybody,” Isaac said.
Anyone interested in getting more information about any of these events can come to the OPEN meetings held every Wednesday at 5 p.m. in Beyer Hall, Room 406.
Students involved in OPEN are a diverse group that share the same intentions and passions about helping people and educating others about the prevalent issues that divide people in the Erie community.
“We are not perfect,” Isaac said, “but, we are doing something right. Gannon needs to help take care of people who can’t help themselves.”

[email protected]