CONTACT: Jesse Call, AmeriCorps VISTA, The Bonner House for Campus-Wide Community Service
1-800-344-6679 ext. 6009, 304-384-6009, firstname.lastname@example.org
Concord University Students Learn about and Serve the Homeless
Athens, W.Va. – From Tennessee to D.C., Concord University students have taken on the issue of homelessness in the spring 2009 semester. And, their work is continuing throughout the summer through community-based research.
As part of an initiative from the newly-developed community service center on campus, The Bonner House for Campus-Wide Community Service, students focused on learning about the issues surrounding homelessness and participating in direct service to those enduring it.
During spring break in March, 33 Concord University students, joined by the two AmeriCorps Volunteers in Service to America (VISTAs), traveled to Nashville, Tennessee, to serve agencies assisting those enduring homelessness on an “alternative” spring break project.
The two teams worked at various agencies including the Nashville Rescue Mission, Room in the Inn’s Campus for Human Development, and the Music City Mission. Their work included preparing and serving meals, preparing and distributing food boxes and clothing, cleaning out a basement to allow that space to be used for additional housing, tutoring in the GED program, office assistance, and more.
The students were introduced to many of the issues that those enduring homelessness face day-to-day such as a lack of services, the separation of their families between shelters, and the resilience of those in overcoming their struggles.
Academic credit was available to students for participating in the alternative spring break trip through a course taught by Dr. Sally Campbell, assistant professor of political science. The course was cross-listed in three academic programs: political science, psychology, and social work.
In April, 16 students and one VISTA worker participated in Student Homeless Challenge Project sponsored by the National Coalition for the Homeless, where they spent 48 hours living on the streets experiencing homelessness firsthand. The students dressed the part, went without showering in advance of the trip, and were stripped of money and personal belongings before hitting the streets. The students were required to panhandle for money, sleep on the streets, and eat from service agencies.
The students faced the day-to-day challenges of those experiencing homelessness including finding food, water, restrooms, and places to rest during the day. They also got to see how others treated them. They also met homeless individuals and heard their stories of how they ended up on the streets. Some even took on extra challenges like trying to apply for a job.
Many students were surprised by the diversity of reasons why people had become homeless including things like family break-ups and identity theft.
Currently and formerly homeless individuals served as “guides” to the students during the nighttime, taking them to the safer locations to sleep and sharing their personal stories of homelessness with them. The Student Homeless Challenge Project provides a means of employment to the guides who were paid for their services.
Students participated in video interviews before and after the Challenge which were posted online at http://www.youtube.com/cuserve.
Academic credit was also offered for the Challenge through a course taught by Dr. Karen Griffee, assistant professor of psychology.
As an immediate result of the Challenge, two students, Tiffany Shaver of Lynco and Christina Laws of Lindside, have begun a clothing drive for the women’s shelter in Lewisburg, W.Va. Donations can be dropped off at The Bonner House for Campus-Wide Community Service located at the corner of Mill St. and Cooper St. in Athens. For more information, please contact Jesse Call at 1-800-344-6679 ext. 6009, 304-384-6009, or email@example.com.
The Concord University Coalition for the Homeless is also forming now to provide resources to students to educate themselves about the issues of homelessness and find agencies that they can assist.
Concord has just begun a new project to address the issues of chronic homelessness in West Virginia. A student team has been developed to do community-based research with agencies assisting the homeless and to develop a policy brief about what could be done to address the issue. This brief will be presented to the Concord community and state policymakers.
The students will do investigative and traditional research on the issue to find what services are available and what services should be available to help individuals overcome homelessness in West Virginia. This is part of a 3-credit hour community-based research course that will also provide students with a book scholarship for their participation.
The Policy Options community-based research course is being taught by Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students, Dr. John David Smith, who is assisted by the faculty advisor for the project, Dr. James White, associate professor of political science.
An advisory board is being developed for the Policy Options projects. Presently, the Bluefield Union Mission in Bluefield, W.Va., has agreed to have a representative serve on the board.
In addition to chronic homelessness, the Policy Options team will do research on state funding of service-learning projects (such as alternative spring breaks and community-based research courses) at state colleges and universities.
Major funding for all these initiatives came from the Corella and Bertram F. Bonner Foundation of Princeton, N.J. The Bonner Foundation, in partnership with roughly 80 colleges and universities nationwide, sponsors community service scholarship and civic engagement. Its programs engage students in service and civic work to strengthen their communities, while also building mutually beneficial relationships with community partners to achieve impact and building a broader campus culture and infrastructure for civic engagement.
The Student Government Association provided additional funding for the alternative spring break trip to Nashville.
Those students who participated in the alternative spring break trip to Nashville, Tennessee, were: Pradip Adhikari of Kathmandu, Nepal; Vanessa Austin of Bluefield; Stephanie Bailey of Princeton; Nicole Bartley of Manahawkin, N.J.; Jennifer Bowman of Lewisburg; Akeya Carter-Bozman of Beckley; Brian Caulkins of Gap Mills; Sezin Celiktas of Istanbul, Turkey; Kristina Champe of Granville; Treska Dunbar of Ripley; Nicole Duvall of Wayside; Anne Endres of Charleston; Christine Fernandes of Dubai, United Arab Emirates; Kayla Green of Princeton; Jennifer Hellems of Rupert; Grace Hurney of Charleston; Jessica Kirk of Comfort; Michelle Lusk of Rock; Mai Ly of Hanoi, Vietnam; Tiffany McMahan of Peterstown; Kiwa Nadas of Charleston, Jennifer Parsons of Peytona; Tacy Pyles of Morgantown; Stephen Reed of Hinton; Brittany Rothausen of Bluefield; Tiffany Shaver of Lynco; Eric Thomas of Leviasy; Samantha Thomas of Princeton; Tung Tran of Hanoi, Vietnam; Virginia Verburg of Athens; Van Vu of Hanoi, Vietnam; Megan Webber of Lynchburg, Va.; and Jonathan Williams of Princeton.
Those students who participated in the Student Homeless Challenge Project in Washington, D.C., were: Jeremy Baker of Beckley; Robert Burr of Birmingham, Ala.; Robert Furey of Glen Daniel; Jesse Hosseini of Bluefield; Ezekial Keyes of Hinton; Christina Laws of Lindside; Corie Lynch of White Sulphur Springs; Anna Maloyed of Princeton; James Maloyed of Princeton; Megan Nelson of Lester; Michael Ohlinger of Mt. Alto; Jonathan Prince of Beckley; Anthony Raines of Peterstown; Tiffany Shaver of Lynco; Eric Thomas of Leviasy; and Anna Wade of Beckley.
NOTE TO EDITORS: Feel free to use video and quotes from the trips available online in your reports. “Before and after” video interviews of the Student Homeless Challenge Project participants are available at http://www.youtube.com/cuserve. In addition, please contact Jesse Call at the Bonner House if you would like him to assist in finding students to interview about the projects.