Creativity Enhancing the Virtual Experience

Miguel Walsh ‘20
(This article first appeared in the Belen Jesuit Alumni Magazine, Summer 2020 edition)

In a global pandemic, the only thing that is certain is that nobody knows what is next. It’s a time of unpredictability and isolation. Around the country, the pandemic has crippled the economy, and as a result, businesses have been shuttered and teleworking has been launched to new heights. Belen Jesuit is not immune to the effects of this virus, but we do have an ace up our sleeve: our connection.

For years, the Belen Alumni Association has been increasing its digital footprint, working to create digital yearbooks, a BConnected online alumni hub, and now, as a result of this pandemic, Belen AVEs (alumni virtual events). These virtual events are a way for alumni to stick together and help each other out. Proactivity is key in times like these, and Belen AVEs have consistently been hosting events to keep alumni ahead of the curve. The virtual conferences began in April with a conference on keeping your business afloat during the pandemic. The following conferences focused on a general COVID-19 briefing, pandemic legal advice,  accounting and tech information panels. 

Another effort to help the Belen community during the pandemic was a joint effort between the school and alumni association, the launch of a social media campaign called #BelenCares. "Our goal was to help bring awareness to local businesses owned by Belen parents or alumni that were staying open during the pandemic," said Teresa Martinez, Director of Communications. The campaign has helped shed a light on 40 businesses in the Belen community.”

One such business, APizza Brooklyn, can speak to what that Belen support really means. Once an 85-95% dine-in restaurant, COVID-19 has required them to transition to an entirely curbside business. They had to recreate their entire business model, even moving to sell eggs, becoming, as co-owner Jacquelyn Prussing put it, “a mini grocery store”. Alongside her husband and co-owner, Jason Prussing, she took the proactive approach: she began calling everyone she knew, trying to solidify business, and that proactivity led her straight to Belen. When she asked Belen about the possibility of shouting out local businesses on social media as a form of support, that became the catalyst to start the #BelenCares social media campaign.
As for the impact on APizza Brooklyn, the Belen community has come through. The Prussing family has been very involved in the Belen community for years, both in Tombola and in sending their sons to Belen, Gunther ‘15 and Deiter ‘18, so now, the Belen community is paying that dedication forward. Alumni and parents walk through the doors of the restaurant each day. The restaurant, as a result of both a loyal following and the Belen community, has not had to lay off any employees. As Jason put it, “We feel blessed to still have a business and still have people employed by us.” 

The #BelenCares campaign also developed into a grassroots effort by the grade levels to provide food for frontline workers. Students began calling the restaurants on the list and coordinated meal deliveries to hospitals, police, and fire stations. This organic movement to help others is a perfect reflection of Jesuit Father Pedro Arrupe’s famous phrase, “men and women for others”. All in all, when faced with the challenges the pandemic caused the school and alumni association rallied and provided new services and opportunities for the community.
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Belen Jesuit Preparatory School was founded in 1854 in Havana, Cuba by Queen Isabel II of Spain.  The task of educating students was assigned to the priests and brothers of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits), whose teaching tradition is synonymous with academic excellence and spiritual discipline.  In 1961, the new political regime of Cuba confiscated the School property and expelled the Jesuit faculty.  The School was re-established in Miami the same year, and over the next decade, continued to grow.  Today, Belen Jesuit sits on a 30-acre site in western Dade County, only minutes away from downtown Miami.