Richard Juelis (FCRH ’70) will always recall how, when he was a child, his older family members talked about returning to Lithuania, a country they fled in the early 20th century to escape czarist occupation and suppression.
“It was a futile dream at that time,” said Juelis, a financial consultant to several San Francisco-area technology companies. “Amazingly, independence occurred in 1990, which allowed the younger generation to return and help rebuild.”
In late May, students from Fordham will assist in that rebuilding thanks to an opportunity he helped create. Juelis has set up a $60,000 endowment for the Global Outreach (GO!) program at Fordham. His generosity will allow nine students to travel to northwest Lithuania to work with the Auksuciai Foundation at its farm and forest center this year, with annual trips planned to Eastern Europe in future years.
The nonprofit organization, for which Juelis is a board member, helps small-scale farmers—many of whom survived under the repressive Communist collective farming system thrive in the free market.
The GO! students will undertake several projects, including farm restoration, planting experimental crops, environmental programs and helping a nearby foster home. There will be cultural exchanges with farm families, university students and professors, and Baltic Jesuits who work at local high schools.
“Even after 20 years, small farmers and most citizens are still getting over the hangover of Communism,” Juelis said. “Some of them have been successful; others haven’t been so lucky.”
The goal of establishing the endowed fund is to educate students about historical and current social injustices in the former Soviet republics and to assist its people.
“Part of it will be simple living—helping out on the farm with springtime fix-up and planting,” he said. “Hopefully, students will learn about injustice issues at the same time.
“Remember these were Soviet Communist countries for 50 years. People were oppressed. There’s still a lot of work to be done,” Juelis said. “The recent economic downturn has really hurt. You read more about Ireland and Portugal, but you could imagine that Eastern European countries have been hit much harder. They are just not talked about as much.”
Juelis himself has made several trips to Lithuania and Republic of Georgia. While he had supported Fordham in the past, finding out about the GO! program allowed him to best combine his interest in Fordham with his interests in Eastern Europe.
“After reviewing similar programs at other universities and working with Paul Francis and his team, I became convinced that Fordham’s GO! program is one of the best there is,” he said.
This will be the first time that GO! travels to Lithuania, said Paul Francis, director of the program, which offers 31 student-led cultural immersion and service projects to help raise awareness about social, economic, political and environmental injustice.
“It’s a hugely transformative experience,” he said. “We focus on being a solidarity-based program rather than a charity-based program. It’s learning through doing, whether through service or immersion.”
GO! Lithuania will be one of the first trips on which the focus is sustainability, Francis said.
Fordham College at Rose Hill senior Eric Horvath, who will serve as team leader, said the environmental focus is precisely what attracted students.
“I want my team to have a global conscience and to think this isn’t an isolated two-week trip or vacation,” Horvath said. “It’s very gracious of Mr. Juelis to help us.”