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Carly Manshum

As one of the students chosen to evaluate Caras Con Causa in Puerto Rico, I met Michael Fernandez-Frey and learned about the communities Caras Con Causa supports. 

Carly Manshum

Carly Manshum. Photo by Maggie Rotermund. 

Caras Con Causa works to improve the education system through after school programs while practicing environmental sustainability and implementing a Community Development Plan in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria.

Fernandez-Frey’s actions lend an example to young adults, like myself, about how we can embrace our own talents to best serve this world as well. Michael told us that at a young age he knew what he was meant to do – he had a calling to serve.

Not many people have any idea about what they want to do when they “grow-up” at that age, and some simply choose to ignore their calling. Yet, despite the risks, Fernandez-Frey let Jesus act as his guide, and he worked vigorously to turn his dreams into reality. It takes a truly selfless and courageous person to do what he has done, and his humble and charismatic leadership motivates the Caras Con Causa staff, the communities in Puerto Rico, and all those who learn about his mission.

One thing that surprised me was the lack of resources, particularly in the lower-class communities on the island. From the lack of adequate extracurricular activities for students to the amount of funding allocated to hurricane relief, Caras Con Causa is dedicated to advocacy for the marginalized within the local communities.

The process of evaluating the finalists looked at the organization through the lens of the Opus Prize Foundation’s key values — social entrepreneurship, transformational leadership, sustainable change, faith, unsung hero, and life of service. We, as student ambassadors, were asked to observe which of these values were most prevalent in the finalist.

This is the type of leadership that we as students should learn from.”

Carly Manshum, SLU Opus Prize Ambassador

In my opinion, one of Fernandez-Frey’s most valuable assets is his ability to understand people’s needs and follow through in a very holistic way. Every person he interacted with, he knew by name. During an after-school program’s Earth Day celebration, while faculty members led events for the children, Fernandez-Frey actively joined in on the festivities, leading a prayer and handing out high-fives all around. This leadership style is what sets him apart from others.

While Fernandez-Frey strives towards conquering the bigger social justice issues within Puerto Rico, he finds motivation through the relationships with those he serves. This is the type of leadership that we as students should learn from.

Growing up in Grayslake, Illinois, I attended a Catholic high school where I was very passionate about service and spiritual growth. When making the decision to attend SLU I knew that I would have the opportunity to continue to explore my faith and discern what it truly means to serve. And I can say that SLU has given me all that and more.

I am a student worker at the Center for Service and Community Engagement, and I am actively involved in the Micah Program, Overground Railroad, Campus Ministry and Campion. Through each of these groups and organizations I work to reflect and identify my own core beliefs and values while challenging myself to understand how to use my strengths to fit into this complex world. Choosing to participate in the Opus Prize selection was just another opportunity to support me in this discernment process.

Reflection by Carly Manshum, a sophomore from Grayslake, Illinois, studying social work in the College of Public Health and Social Justice. She evaluated Caras con Causa in Puerto Rico, whose mission is to “promote community development to eradicate poverty through education, the environment and economic development together with the communities of Cataño and Guaynabo, Puerto Rico. Since its inception, its work has been characterized by the integration of multiple development approaches to promote community self-management.”