Josie Knesel: A Woman for and with Others
by Mark Chmiel
Janet Oberle of the SLU Athletic Department shared the following nomination for the Mev Puleo Social Justice Award. I am happy to know that Josie Knesel is doing good work in Saint Louis and in Nicaragua!
Josie has only been at SLU for 18 months, but in that time she has shown her willingness to place the goal of helping others and being in support of others over her own personal goals. Josie went through a difficult transition to college and struggled during her freshman year. She found clarity and a connection to the larger world through a trip to Nicaragua over the summer of 2015, with a group called Amigos for Christ.
Josie has put her own struggles into perspective as she focused totally on being in service to others. She recognized the value of “being in the moment” as you are serving others while pushing yourself through to grow as a person.
Personally, I have always been inspired by Mev and her story. The book Mark wrote about her, sharing her personality and commitment to helping others has always been an inspiration. As I observe students grappling with their sincere understandings of different people, different cultures and lifestyles, I know Mev would appreciate the reality in those struggles.
Josie is a young person who experienced the reality of struggling with how to understand the world around you, as she struggled with some personal mental health issues as a freshman. During her freshman year, she committed to going to Nicaragua with Amigos for Christ, an organization dedicated to helping the people of Nicaragua with both short and long term solutions to the issues they face. She blogged about this trip and its daily impact on her with a profoundly honest voice. This blog showed her own engagement with the culture, the people, the language, the issues facing the people she was serving. As she did this, she explored her faith, her understanding of herself and her commitment to social justice issues.
Through this experience, she was inspired to “want more” and she speaks about wanting to learn Spanish so she can “build meaningful relationships” with the people she served. She said that she wants “more chances to have my hands cramp and become dirt stained onto every inch of my body from digging so many trenches”. We see in those words the transformation of a young person – from someone volunteering for a trip to Nicaragua to someone committing to live in solidarity with the people they serve.
Mev would be proud of that honest process.
And when she returned, she was also inspired to talk about her trip, the people she met, and the transformation in perspective the trip helped her have. Josie did more than share her stories and commit to going back, she inspired teammates to commit to the trip as well. So, in the summer of 2016, she is returning to the community she served and bringing with her two additional teammates. Josie wants others to experience the transformation she did.
The examples above – of her personal transformation and her inspiration to others to join her – show her lived experience of being a woman for – and with – others.