Guatemalan custom dictates that when a person of stature visits, pine needles are scattered about so the guest’s feet don’t touch the ground. So when 1989 graduate Joe Berninger arrived in the country bearing textbooks and other educational materials for underprivileged children, he received a royal welcome replete with autograph requests. In a later retelling, Berninger likened himself to Britney Spears, an image that elicited chuckles from the 250 people gathered for the fourth annual Fall Fiesta, a fundraiser sponsored by the Cooperative for Education—staffed largely by Xavier alumni whose mission is to break the cycle of poverty in Guatemala.
“It’s a classy party with good food and music and lots of interesting items to bid on,” says Berninger, the executive director. “Our supporters use it as an opportunity to reconnect with friends they’ve met during service tours to Guatemala, and others come to learn about our work for the first time and explore how they might get involved.” The October event raised $28,800 through donations, silent auctions and craft sales that included Guatemalan weaving, table runners, Afghans, hand-carved puzzles, artwork, hand-beaded purses and coffees.
“We’ve been surprised at how the event has grown each year,” Berninger says. “I see it becoming a major charity event in the area.”