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Summer Program Offers Free University Level Classes To Eugene Homeless People

Rachael McDonald

People who are homeless or living in poverty are as likely as anyone else to be interested in intellectual pursuits. A program in Eugene seeks to give homeless people access to classes with authors and university professors for free

Bill Ferrari is a teacher at Marist High School in Eugene. He started Summer Seminars three years ago. He modeled them after a program at Notre Dame University that offers academic classes to people who are homeless.
Ferrari: “There’s nothing like that here in Eugene that I’m familiar with. And I asked around a little bit because I had some connections at the U of O. and there is nothing like that. And I though well, heck, we could do that.”
Farrari says most of the classes are taught by University of Oregon professors, who donate their time. For the first session of the summer former State Department staffer Kael Weston flew in from Utah to talk about his book, “The Mirror Test: America At War In Iraq And Afghanistan”.
Weston: “Like Aaron’s a disfigured veteran’s mirror test should become our own.”
Weston’s book is about his time spent in Iraq and Afgahnistan during the height of both wars. He shows photos from the book and reads an excerpt. There’s a discussion with participation from the dozen or so students. Robert James, who is homeless, came to the seminars last summer too. He says he appreciates the opportunity to talk about issues and ideas.
James: “Books are free. There’s a library across the street where you can do masters level work if you wish to. But there’s an interaction within this which permits a good deal of satisfaction. You can discuss the topics and not simply read about them or think about them.”
James and the other participants stick around to get signed copies of Weston’s book, grab sandwiches and water. Then they head out, some are on the search for a place to sleep tonight.
Weston says Ferrari contacted him after reading his book and invited him to Eugene.  
Weston: “This is probably the most innovative, unexpected and original invitation I’ve received to talk about the book.”
Weston brought 10 hardcover copies of his book to give away to participants. He says he doesn’t have any expectations about whether they’ll read it.
Weston: “Warfare and some of the themes I think we tried to bring out in that group are universal so I wanted to make sure they had the opportunity to feel the book, to open it, look at the photos, read pages, read all of it cover-to cover or only read one chapter.”
Bill Ferrari says even people going through hard times have a thirst for knowledge.
Ferrari: “And I do think that people who are in these potentially very difficult circumstances, very tenuous circumstances, they still deserve a voice and their voice is intelligent and they are very, very capable of articulating their insights in very profound ways.”
Ferrari chooses a theme for each series of seminars. This one is “The Moral Obligation to Be Intelligent” from an essay by Robert Erskine.  Ferrari says Weston’s book about war fits well with the theme.
Ferrari: “You know it was personal. It was real. There was nothing watered down about it. We had a pretty good turnout. We’re always trying to grow the program.”
Ferrari advertises for the Summer Seminars with flyers dropped off at the Dining Room and shelters and Rest Stops for homeless people. He has help from Marist students and a couple of U of O professors.
Kael Weston’s flight to Eugene from Utah was covered by donor funds. Ferrari says contributions also cover lunch, which is served after each session.

Tuesday, August 2:    J KAEL WESTON, Author of The Mirror Test: America at War in Iraq and Afghanistan
Thursday, August 4:    PROFESSOR HOLLY ARROW, University of Oregon Department of Psychology
Tuesday, August 9:        PROFESSOR JEN REYNOLDS, University of Oregon Law School
Wednesday, August 10:    PROFESSOR MATTHEW PITTMAN, University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication    
Thursday, August 11:    PROFESSOR MICHAEL RUSSO, University of Oregon Lundquist College of Business
Tuesday, August 16:    PROFESSOR DAN TICHENOR, University of Oregon Department of Political Science
Wednesday, August 17:    PROFESSOR DOUG WILSON, University of Oregon Lundquist College of Business
Thursday, August 18:    PROFESSOR CHRIS CHAVEZ, University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication

Rachael McDonald is KLCC’s host for All Things Considered on weekday afternoons. She also is the editor of the KLCC Extra, the daily digital newspaper. Rachael has a BA in English from the University of Oregon. She started out in public radio as a newsroom volunteer at KLCC in 2000.