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Take a walk to help the homeless in DuPage County
By Joan Broz | Daily Herald Columnist

After the STEP walk to raise awareness about homelessness and poverty, St. Joan of Arc Deacon Tom Richardt will discuss his visit to a medical clinic in Navaisha, Kenya.


Courtesy of Tom Richardt

Tom Richardt has made mission trips for three years running to Navaisha, Kenya. His observations about global poverty will be part of a presentation following the STEP walk.


Courtesy of Tom Richardt

As part of his mission work, Deacon Tom Richardt has been part of a construction team that has replaced windowless, one-room shelters like this one with sturdy, metal houses with several rooms and windows.


Courtesy of Tom Richardt

After seeing life in Navaisha, Kenya, and other locales, Tom Richardt says homelessness has many causes, most of which can be overcome.


Courtesy of Tom Richardt

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Published: 5/11/2009 12:05 AM

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If you go

What: STEP Walk to fight poverty and homelessness

When: Registration at 12:30 p.m. and walk at 1 p.m. Saturday, May 17

Where: St. Joan of Arc Church, 820 Division St., Lisle

Details: An awareness fair follows the event with speakers, fair-trade product sales and children's activities

Cost: Walkers should seek sponsors; pledge sheets are available through the church

Info: (630) 963-4500, ext. 4522

Stepping off on a stroll may change the way you think about homelessness.

The Social Justice and Peace Ministry at St. Joan of Arc church in Lisle hosts its fifth annual STEP walk at 1 p.m. Saturday, May 17, to raise money to combat hunger and poverty. Participants are asked to secure sponsors or self-fund their walk. Organizers estimate 150 people participated last year and total contributions were approximately $15,000.

STEP stands for Steps Toward Eliminating Poverty. Created by Catholic Relief Services to work within dioceses across the country, STEP uses prayer, education, charity and justice to bring about awareness and change.

Funds raised through pledges at Sunday's walk will benefit Catholic Relief Services and local homelessness resources.

Created in 1943, Catholic Relief Services provides critical humanitarian aid in 100 countries around the globe. It works to enhance human dignity, empower people to self-sufficiency, promote peace and conflict resolution and strengthen support organizations.

The two-mile walk will follow a short prayer service at the church. Participants who choose not to walk may sponsor parish pastor the Rev. Gabriel Baltes, who will lead the walkers, walk chairwoman Donna Schreiber said. Others may choose to take part in a mini-walk within the church proper.

The outdoor route will wind from the church to Garfield Pond, onto Main Street and back to St. Joan's, 820 Division St. Sponsor packets are available at the church or by calling Deacon Tom Richardt at (630) 963-4500, ext. 4522. The packet also contains a list of recommended reading materials and Web sites. On-site event registration begins at 12:30 p.m.

"There is so much we can do to eliminate poverty," Richardt said. "Many people do not relate to hunger and the fact that a third of the world's population survives on less than a dollar a day."

Richardt estimates there are between 800 and 1,000 homeless individuals in DuPage County.

"The causes of poverty around the world are many and varied but need to be addressed," he said.

In places such as Africa, where Richardt has traveled the past three years on mission work, he sees homelessness and hunger as a result of illness such as HIV/AIDS, unfair employment practices, discrimination among tribes and genders, exploitation of people, natural disasters such as drought, and physical and mental ills for which people receive no treatment.

After the walk in Lisle, participants and others will gather in the St. Joan of Arc school gym for an awareness fair that will offer free food, crafts and informative materials.

Richardt will give a short speech on global homelessness along with Lisle resident Elizabeth Clifford, who will address local concerns.

Clifford teaches at a large high school in the western suburbs. For all of her 17 working years, she has seen at least a couple students each year who are homeless.

"Teachers try discreetly to help these students because (the students) do not want anyone to know of their situation," Clifford said. "How can a kid come to school in the morning and learn when they slept in a car for the night?"

By having extra clothing, breakfast foods and making the locker room available for showers, Clifford said, schools try to help these students.

"Without meeting basic human needs, what I teach is useless," she said.

Clifford says she also sees students who are not homeless by the state's definition, but do not have a consistent roof over their heads. They may shift between relatives and occasionally sleep at a shelter or with their family in a car.

"I can't imagine what it is like to not know where you are sleeping each night," Clifford said. "It is important the students continue their education so they will not continue in the same situation."

At the fair's advocacy table, Lisle resident Ron Durbin will encourage voters to sign letters to their Congressmen in Washington, D.C., regarding House bill HR 1310 and Senate bill 696. Both focus on putting an end to mountain top removal mining practices.

"The bills are critical to the nation's waters," Durbin said. "Mountain top removal mining devastates native hardwood forests, dumping millions of tons of debris into nearby streams in order to get the coal in an easy way."

More than 500 mountains in Kentucky and Tennessee have been destroyed, he said, while an estimated 2,000 miles of Appalachian streams have been destroyed. People who live near those streams have had to move away and some have died, he said.

At STEP, Cathy Gorski will oversee the sale of popular fair-trade products such as chocolate, coffee, jewelry and toys. The Lisle resident said fair trade gives a fair wage to farmers, artists and workers in the global marketplace for their products. It returns dignity to their labors and empowers workers to be self-sufficient.

Lisle resident Lisa Carpino will oversee the fair's children's craft area, where 3- to 12-year-olds may try their hand at looming, planting, painting, ceramics and making prayer flags.

"It is a fun event for the children, too," Carpino said. "They can participate in the walk and then come to the children's center."

The reach, cause and consequence of poverty are devastating, but awareness can bring change. For details go to and

STEP is a chance to touch the lives of people in need with each step.