Quinn DiFalco. PHOTO: Colette Kulig Photography

A Passion for Social Justice: Quinn DiFalco and the Peace and Justice Center

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Thursday August 31, 2017

Quinn DiFalco wears many hats. At 19 years of age, she has already been an au pair in Rome, worked at a retreat in New Zealand, and interned for a nonprofit organization with a mission for social justice. If that’s not enough, in between her working hours, she assists a professional photographer and is in training to be an EMT. This fall, DiFalco adds to her interests when she enters the University of Vermont with a major in nursing and a minor in psychological science. Ever expansive, she adds, “Eventually, I actually hope to get a business degree to work to help companies change their business models to become more worker-oriented, ensuring sustainable wages, quality health care, and decent facilities as a way of actually improving overall company standards.”

This passion for making a difference was ignited when DeFalco, a 2016 graduate of Rice Memorial High School, became involved with the Burlington nonprofit Peace and Justice Center (PJC). “I attended a workshop of theirs involving non-violent intervention. With two friends of mine, we began volunteering at their fair trade store attached to the PJC the summer after our junior year,” explains DiFalco. That involvement sparked further volunteer efforts including helping with the organizations UVM Activity Fair and their Valentine’s Day Cocoa Campaign.

At the beginning of 2017, DiFalco applied to be a PJC Fair Trade Intern in an effort, she says, “To learn more and give back to the community that has helped me develop a more loving and wide world view.” Her intern position included responsibilities such as conducting research, writing articles, giving presentations, and organizing fair trade events.

PJC Executive Director Rachel Siegel notes the value of the intern positions at the community-driven nonprofit, an organization with a big mission, “to create a just and peaceful world.” She says, “The Peace and Justice Center is a very small organization when you look at our budget and our staffing. However, we get a lot done. That is all because of our interns and volunteers. We would not exist the way we do without them.”
Siegel describes DiFalco as a delight, adding, “She brought a balance of joyful humor and earnest gravity to the work we do. As an intern she dove into more depth of programming. She was an amazing asset when we organized our annual World Fair Trade Day event. Quinn was essential in how smoothly it ran.”

World Fair Trade Day is an annual global celebration in May with the purpose of promoting and calling attention to small-scale producers at the heart of the fair trade movement, as well as the contributions these producers make to healthy and sustainable communities around the world. DiFalco adds that beyond fair trade certification providing fair wages, “It ensures that the people harvesting crops and raw materials, or working in the fabrication of an item, are not exposed to harmful chemicals that are detrimental to their health. Nor are they asked to wield machinery or hazardous material without appropriate protection and safety precautions.”

It was at PJC’s 2016 World Fair Trade Day celebration at Burlington’s City Hall Park where DiFalco found herself in a banana suit advocating for the cause. “I started that fine May day as a regular volunteer, helping set up our free smoothie station, and not an hour or so later found myself inside a banana suit, astride the City Market Smoothie bike, racing kids and adults alike to make fair trade banana smoothies for their friends and families. In between bike rides, I was talking to farmers’ market shoppers about the importance of fair trade.”

Siegel expresses, “What drew me to Quinn was not only her ability to articulate a cause, it was her passion about the cause - not everyone would wear a banana suit with such joy!” Most importantly, Siegel says, “She helped people think about the choices we have as consumers to make a positive impact on other people around the world.”

Indeed, DiFalco can be playful and the best kind of sport. But make no mistake, her deeds lie in a deep passion for social justice. “I wanted to be part of the team that put together very hard and uncomfortable dialogues about the cycle of poverty perpetuated by free trade, institutional racism in our country, and peaceful conflict resolution, and part of the team that helps activists all over Vermont come together peacefully, with a humble dignity and fierce bravery, to protest, to educate or to be informed, to serve the community, to raise one another up, and to bring injustice to the forefront of our everyday lives.”

The following year, as part of her internship, DiFalco was instrumental in the planning and execution of the PJC 2017 World Fair Trade Day celebration. In addition, she helped with the organization’s Symposium for Social Justice and took part in PJC’s monthly White Fragility Talks. DiFalco says she admires the work of the PJC and sees them as an educational resource for the community. “I feel incredibly lucky to have been part of such an incredible team of people, working daily to tackle economic and racial injustice, and endeavor for truth and transparency, without using force or intimidation, but through the careful exercise of constitutional rights and common compassion.”

“The volunteers and interns at the PJC make a real difference in the world. And when they reflect on their time with us, they are clearly impacted by the experience in deep and positive ways. I’ve seen students come to us with a spark of interest and leave with a passion to carry on the mission of the PJC far beyond our own programming,” remarks Siegel, adding, “I’d say it’s a remarkably symbiotic relationship!”

For DiFalco, her future promises to be full of adventure and inspiration. With her clear drive for knowledge and passion for world issues, she looks forward to her university education. “I am excited to be studying a healing science and working with people, understanding their bodies and their minds.” Noting further goals right from the start, she adds that she will continue to volunteer at PJC and, later, will work towards earning an MBA.

DiFalco is far too busy to see any limitations, saying, “I have so much to learn; I think it is too early to let myself already be defined by some standard or philosophy I set for myself without first understanding as much and as many ideas as I can.”


SOURCE: Carole Vasta Folley, The Other Paper