January 10, 2017 — “It is in giving that we receive,” St. Francis of Assisi once said, and Creighton University in Omaha, Neb., recently learned the true meaning behind those words by selecting the $1 million Opus Prize winner for 2016. The Opus Prize Foundation awards the prize annually to a faith-based nonprofit while delegating its selection process to a different Catholic university every year.
Creighton University served as host for the prize in 2016, which meant that students, faculty, and board members at the school were involved in narrowing down a list of nominations to the top three, performing due diligence, and conducting site visits to select the winner.
Sarah Lance, left, co-founder of Sari Bari, a nonprofit in India helping former sex trade workers learn new skills
The theme was “Restoring Hope, Lighting the Way Home,” a common thread connecting the work of the three finalists: Sari Bari, Jesuit Worldwide Learning — Higher Education at the Margins, and Cana Communities Inc. The top prize of $1 million went to Sari Bari, and the runners up received $100,000 each. But for the Creighton students and faculty involved, the selection process was its own priceless gift.
Sr. Anne Jordan, PBVM, recently retired as CEO of Cana Communities.
Creighton University junior Josh Nichols paired up with renowned photographer Jesuit Fr. Don Doll in Australia, India, and Africa to document the three finalists, creating a four-minute video on each one. Nichols was struck by Sr. Anne Jordan and Cana Communities Inc., a group of overnight shelters and homes, including farms, in Australia. Cana offers a community to ex-convicts and former addicts, "people no one else wants to work with," said Nichols.
Jesuit Fr. Peter Balleis, right, of Jesuit Worldwide Learning — Higher Education at the Margins
Another Creighton student, Selina Marshall, traveled to Lilongwe, Malawi, to meet Jesuit Fr. Peter Balleis and observe his work with Jesuit Worldwide Learning — Higher Education at the Margins. This organization has brought a Jesuit university education to a refugee camp through partnerships with Jesuit universities, which provide online courses. "I realized how crucial educating individuals in these communities is," Marshall said.
"This trip lit a flame within me," said Delaney Ellfeldt, a Creighton senior who traveled to Kolkata, India, to meet Sarah Lance, co-founder of Sari Bari. "[It] changed me by opening my eyes to the world of sex trafficking." The nonprofit teaches former sex trade workers how to sew and sells their wares online, allowing the women to earn a salary and benefits.
Jesuit Fr. Daniel Hendrickson, president of Creighton University, presented the award to Lance and Sari Bari at an award ceremony in November that recognized all three finalists. The week leading up the prize announcement offered broader opportunities for those who did not participate in the vetting process. Representatives of the three finalist charities spoke on panels, visited classrooms and participated in public events, such as an interfaith prayer service, at the university.
“Of myriad social service agencies and charities around the globe, these organizations were chosen because they have developed creative, faith-filled solutions to some of the world’s most pressing problems,” said Fr. Hendrickson. “As the host institution, we at Creighton University have been witness to their life-changing work.”
Watch all four videos created by Fr. Doll and Nichols.