Catholic Herald Staff
Inspired by Catholic social teaching, Gina Baker, a third-grade teacher at Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic School, Ladysmith, wants justice for her community.
“I think the duties of the church are to get out there and spread the message of Jesus,” said Baker, who received the diocese’s 2013 Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton Award Oct. 9 at the Fall Conference in Rice Lake.
She believes in service to one’s community.
“I want to get people out there, and I want to get them going,” added Baker. “People should use their talents to reach out into the community.”
The St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Award recognizes Catholic school staff members whose ministry contributes to the quality of Catholic education. For Baker, adding a community service element to the curriculum was an extension of her own education; Catholic social teaching is the basis of her mother’s personal philosophy, so Baker grew up in that mindset.
Raised in Rusk County, Baker intended to leave the area after high school. She traveled, teaching at Catholic schools in Bloomer and Stillwater, Minn., and somehow ended up back where she started.
She and husband Douglas Baker, a manager with Jeld-Wen in Hawkins, have two children – Abigail, 7, and Luke, 5. They are in second grade and kindergarten, respectively, at Our Lady of Sorrows.
“I keep my eye on them,” she joked.
Baker’s other children are her students. She’s taught them the major tenets of Catholic social teaching – human dignity, solidarity, call to participation, rights and responsibilities and more – and she also tries to bring those teachings to life through volunteer work.
Her class visits a local nursing home each month, and she plans to invite Somali and Latino workers to speak to her students during National Migration Week in January.
“We’re trying to reach out,” Baker added. “Our next project is going to be talking about other cultures.”
Baker doesn’t confine her activities to school. At Our Lady of Sorrows Parish, she’s organizing a social concerns committee to address poverty, homelessness and related problems in Ladysmith. She’s trying to spread the word and garner support from fellow parishioners.
“I guess awareness is my thing with the Catholic social teaching,” she said.
One of Baker’s interests is improving Rusk County Lighthouse, a homeless shelter in Ladysmith that is strapped for cash and space.
“What they need is a bigger building,” she said.
Currently located in a home, Lighthouse cannot accommodate both men and women on the same night, which necessarily limits how many individuals can stay there.
“One thing I would like to see – make that bigger and more accessible to families,” she added.
Baker believes just getting homeless people through the door can help.
“I know that when people stay there, they get more educated about how to manage their money, how to keep a job, just manage everyday things,” she said.
In her personal time, Baker makes scrapbooks for the families of residents in the nursing home’s memory wing.
“That’s kind of one of my favorite projects to do,” she added.
Coming home to Rusk County has been a blessing for Baker, who finds joy at Our Lady of Sorrows.
“I like that at our school, we’re all a family,” she said. “I do feel part of the community. I do want to help those who don’t have a lot.”