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1818 Grant Project Brings Astronomy to Ex-Offenders


Through support from new grant program honoring Saint Louis University’s bicentennial, senior Samuel Greaves and staff member Bill Biermann are sharing their love of stargazing with men transitioning out of prison into new lives.

Center for Transition of St. Louis 1818 Grant Project
The grant awarded by SLU's 1818 Community Grant Program helped purchase a telescope for ex-offenders working with the Transition Center of St. Louis.  The center's superintendent Don Arias (left) accepts the telescope from SLU senior and project leader Samuel Greaves (right). Submitted photo

The pair’s project involves teaching astronomy classes at the Transition Center of St. Louis, a Missouri Department of Corrections residential center. The center provides housing, employment readiness training, education, life skills courses, and classes on parenting, money management and other programming. It serves men who are transitioning back into society following completion of their prison sentences.

Greaves, a senior in the Richard A. Chaifetz School of Business, and Biermann received support as part of SLU’s 1818 Community Engagement Grants in fall 2018.

Viewing the Heavens and Glimpsing a New Horizon

“I have done close to a hundred star parties over my life for scouts, schools and other organizations,” Biermann, director of SLU’s Transformative Workforce Academy, said. “Nothing comes close to the level of enthusiasm that the guys expressed.”

Biermann, an amateur astronomer for 35 years, and Greaves, a fellow star enthusiast, worked with the center’s superintendent, Don Arias, to host the classes. The pair used their 1818 grant to purchase equipment to view the heavens, including a telescope.

The astronomy program began in September 2018 and includes monthly classes. Each class features a lecture and a chance for the men taking part to view the stars through their grant-funded telescope.

“They were blown away by what they were seeing,” Greaves said. “Almost all of the guys at the center have never looked through a telescope. It is an incredible feeling to be able to provide them with that experience.”

Grants Continue SLU's 200-Year Commitment to Serve Others

The project, one of the inaugural awards class made through SLU's 1818 Community Grant Program, will be featured at the coming 1818 Community Grant Symposium on SLU’s campus next week. The symposium, part of SLU’s Atlas Week 2019 celebration, will be held from 3 to 5 p.m. on Saturday, April 6, in the University’s Center for Global Citizenship.

Movement Exchange workshop
SLU's chapter of Movement Exchange received a grant to buy instruments for workshops with a local non-profit that serves children with disabilities. Photo by Amelia Flood

1818 grants support projects that carry SLU’s historic commitment to service forward into its third century. Other 1818 grants have included funds for the University’s chapter of Movement Exchange, to purchase instruments to use in the group’s monthly workshops for Kids Enjoy Exercise Now! (KEEN), a St. Louis-based nonprofit group that provides exercise and dance classes for children with disabilities.

Other funded projects include redesigning a homeless shelter’s tutoring space for children and teaching yoga; providing long-term trauma training to SLU students involved in tutoring in the community; and distributing pollinator gardens to 20 region elementary schools.

The 1818 Community Engagement Grant Program is administered through SLU’s Center for Service and Community.

Saint Louis University is a Catholic, Jesuit institution that values academic excellence, life-changing research, compassionate health care, and a strong commitment to faith and service. Founded in 1818, the University fosters the intellectual and character development of more than 13,000 students on campuses in St. Louis and Madrid, Spain. Building on a legacy of now more than 200 years, Saint Louis University continues to move forward with an unwavering commitment to a higher purpose, a greater good.

Story by Amelia Flood, University Marketing and Communications