Shameka Brown, Drake’s Newman Civic Fellow, had the
opportunity to travel to Boston, Massachusetts to attend the Newman Civic
Fellow conference at the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the U.S Senate Nov.
15-16. During this time, she was able to collaborate with other Newman Fellows
from across the country to discuss the power of change and what it means to be
“This opportunity allowed me to understand the
different strategies and ways to make changes through socio and political
tactics,” she said. She was able to work with other students who are committed
to the public purpose of higher education. Campus
Compact gives students the skills to build democracy through civic
education and community development.
Shameka is currently working to apply the skills she gained from the conference to the project she is conducting at Drake, which entails working to develop an African American Studies major at Drake. Adding this major to the Drake curriculum would help diversify the program and give students the opportunity to expand upon their studies. She is currently working on a grant that would help provide funding for the major and help the major to be sustainable for years to come.
University has received an award totaling $55,794 from Iowa Campus Compact to
support the Campus Compact AmeriCorps Program and Engaged Citizen Corps Program
at Drake. The award represents the largest award Drake has received from Iowa
Campus Compact to date and will allow the university to continue growing its
AmeriCorps service program.
this award, we are able to educate more Drake students about community
engagement and social justice, while building the capacity of more nonprofits
around Des Moines,” said Amanda Martin, Assistant Director of Community Engaged
Learning and manager of the Engaged Citizen Corps program. “We are so grateful
to Iowa Campus Compact and the Campus Compact AmeriCorps Program for their
support and partnership.”
Engaged Citizen Corps Program is a year-long program for first-year students at
Drake who take 9 credits together and serve a 300-hour service internship with
a local nonprofit, such as Anawim Housing, Des Moines Area Religious Council
(DMARC), and Grubb YMCA. The award includes an AmeriCorps education award that
the participants receive to offset costs of higher education, in addition to
helping to provide funding for a staff position who works with the AmeriCorps
members on a regular basis. The funding will also allow students to participate
in regional conferences dedicated to education and service.
program puts first-year students on an accelerated path to developing
professional skills and to becoming civically-engaged citizens and
professionals,” said Martin. “Alums of the program have gone on to leadership
roles around campus and many have continued in internships and jobs at the
Emily Shields, Executive Director of Iowa & Minnesota
Campus Compact said, “We
highly value our partnership with Drake University and look forward to another
year of leveraging AmeriCorps resources to positively impact students and
the larger Drake community.”
Iowa & Minnesota Campus Compact strengthens
the capacity of colleges and universities to fulfill the public purposes of
higher education through its network of 58 campuses. IAMNCC creates
partnership opportunities, supports quality programming through professional
development, and promotes the importance of the civic mission. This includes
Campus Compact AmeriCorps, which catalyzes partnerships that transform higher
education, people, and communities. For more information visit iacampuscompact.org.
I utilize service learning in my Homelessness in America class to assist students in understanding this complicated and multi-layered problem. I connect community organizations that come and speak to the class on a variety of topics related to homelessness, have the class volunteer at a local shelter, and design and implement a class project that educates the Drake community on the issue.
Continual reflection was utilized by journaling, speaker reflection papers and reflecting on the group work and project. In addition, I asked students to reflect on what citizenship means, do they believe that volunteering is a necessary part of community and the role of the government in responding to the issue.
We had eight speakers from local organizations speak at the class and students volunteered at Central Iowa Shelter and Services. Students wrote thank you notes, sorted donations, checked in guests and handed out towels and hygiene items.
For the group project students wanted to educate the Drake community on homelessness as well as collect items for those living on the street or in camps. Students decided on hygiene and snack bags. With our service learning grant we were able to purchase 96 hygiene kits that contained soap, shampoo, toothpaste and toothbrush, razor and shave cream. They collected snack items for the snack packs by placing collection bins around campus and creating a venmo account for cash donations. To get the word out students reached out to organizations on campus, hung posters, created a Facebook event and tabled in Olmstead on April 16 and 17th. While tabling they had students answer questions on homelessness in Iowa and Polk County for candy prizes, collected notes of encouragement to put in the kits, gave tips on engaging with the homeless and panhandlers and distributed homeless services resource cards for Polk County.
The students collected items and raised an additional $200 that was used to purchase snack items. They assembled over 100 snack bags containing granola bars, beef stick, nuts, applesauce, a bottle of water, mints, a note of encouragement and a homeless service resource card. Over 200 snack and hygiene kits were delivered by students on May 8th to Primary Health Care’s Homeless Outreach Services.
The success of the class was seen in the student’s reflections:
“Through this project, and in particular through this class, I’ve learned a great deal about social inequality and homelessness. Most importantly I learned how bad the situation is for homeless individuals in Iowa and in Des Moines in particular. Sometimes it’s hard for people to recognize what’s going on in their own backyard, but I feel as if this class has opened my eyes to the reality of the homeless population in Iowa. “
“Specifically, regarding our project, it made me think about how often I take things for granted. A plastic bag with crackers, a water bottle, jerky, a granola bar, and a mint seem insignificant in my own life. That is a snack I would probably get between games at one of my old soccer tournaments for a travel soccer club that probably cost like $10,000 a year. Even then, I would probably only have the granola bar and the water and then throw the rest of the stuff out. These days, I do my best to salvage things that can be salvaged, but throughout this experience I have felt that there are things that I do still take things for granted, and I now feel confident that I can recognize and try to change that. Besides that, I have come to appreciate the services that the organizations we learned about offer. Not only do they clothe and feed people experiencing homelessness, but they try to provide things that every human should have available to them (medical assistance, federal aid, transitional housing, etc.).”
“I came in with a small amount of prior knowledge about this topic. I knew about the struggle for affordable housing, the growing rates of gentrification, and issues regarding the wealth gap, and that’s about it. Something that has stuck with me about this course is how difficult it is to rise out of poverty/homelessness and stay there. I also learned how frequently people get evicted, and how many regulations are at fault for these evictions. For example, in Evicted, we read that, in some places, if a tenant calls 911 three times or more in one month, they can be evicted. I was like…WHAT?!?!?!? There are so many injustices that few people are aware of and few people care about. Also, people experiencing homelessness can get in trouble with law enforcement basically by just existing. Why? Simply because better – off people don’t want to “see it”.”
My name is Kate Gallinero, and I am a first-year student studying prepharmacy at Drake. This year I was blessed with the opportunity to work with Genesis Youth Foundation, where I was an intern through Drake’s Engaged Citizen Corps program. Genesis is a grassroots nonprofit in Des Moines whose goal is to give opportunities to and empower immigrant and refugee youth. They hold after school arts and soccer programs as well as academic enrichment and tutoring to build up the youth and connect them to a community that is welcoming and intended to aid in their personal growth. At the heart of this nonprofit is the CEO and founder of Genesis, Sam Gabriel. From the moment I met Sam, I knew that Genesis was something he was immensely passionate about and it was incredibly infectious. As an immigrant myself, I know the importance of giving opportunities to immigrant and refugee youth. I know the struggle to not have your parents walk you through paperwork before college; to have to translate during parent-teacher conferences; to not be able to ask your parents for help on homework; to grow up in a world completely different from the world they grew up in. Growing up as a first generation American is an experience near and dear to the core to so many people and the opportunity to make it better for youth in the Des Moines Area has been something I hold close to my heart. Truthfully, as much as I came into this program wanting to improve Genesis Youth Foundation, I learned so much more from this experience than I ever could have imagined.
This year I worked with data analytics and ways to improve the programs within Genesis. Some of my projects this year included creating tutoring curriculums for Genesis youth programs, and working with the Salesforce system for nonprofits to hold and keep track of data. Something new implemented with Genesis this year is their structure which now involves sign-ups for sessions throughout the year with pre and post assessments to measure the growth of the students. I also worked with creating guidebooks for new coaches and volunteers. While a lot of what I did was behind the scenes work, I knew that the work I did allowed others to do things that helped Genesis to grow. Although some of the things I did felt like office work and I was not always directly working with the kids, I learned to understand that my work was part of something bigger. I learned that behind the scenes work is just as crucial as being on the front lines of the nonprofit so to speak.
In the immigrant community, food is an important cornerstone to relationships and community. Food brings people together, says “welcome” better than words ever could, and most importantly, should never be denied when offered. I recall meeting Sam and having him ask me how comfortable I was trying new foods, to which I responded that I was fairly comfortable. Being an immigrant myself I knew that food is a way to open up your culture, little did I know that besides the food, there would be such an overwhelming sense of ease with the kids and other volunteers. The unique thing about Genesis is the sense of home and family that you receive. The sense of comfort and safety at Genesis is almost palpable, which makes it so important to the community. Being able to build those relationships and provide a space to feel understood and valued, like they have somewhere to be heard and somewhere to grow. Especially in a climate that is increasingly unkind to those from immigrant and refugee background, the importance of embracing culture and differences is becoming more and more apparent. Through the community building and programming, the goal of Genesis is to help level the playing field for these immigrant and refugee youth, and give them the tools to succeed.
Truthfully, this organization has become so much closer to my heart than I imagined. The sense of family and community that Genesis brings is truly so unique and needed in Des Moines. Even as a first-year student, in a new state, and new city, I found a home away from home not only at Drake, but in this organization. Because of my service learning, I am capable of understanding and analyzing the needs of a community before addressing what I judged to be their needs. I have learned so much more than my personal experience has given me. I learned the importance of community building as well as capacity building in the nonprofit world. I learned that there is a difference between reaching out to the community as an outsider and being a part of the community.
Students in PHAR 150’s Global Health Course spent the past year teamed up with the Des Moines Area Religious Council (DMARC) to take part in service learning. The students were divided into three teams. These are their experiences.
Throughout the course of this semester, our class partnered with three different DMARC food pantries. At our site, we helped restock shelves, walked the patrons through the aisles, and administered anonymous surveys to collect data on various social determinants of health and food insecurity. We have learned more about the food pantry and DMARC through interacting with the pantry staff. Analyzing the surveys and conducting a focus group allowed us to assess the population needs. Our focus group was an open discussion where we discussed the patrons’ perceptions of the pantry, use of the pantry and other food banks/kitchens, and other resources they were in need of. The patrons were very willing to share their personal experiences with the group, which resulted in an engaging conversation and mentionedseveral ideas we could bring up to the pantry directors, such as creating a resource contact list for various services such as mental health, health insurance, housing, and employment.
One of the major takeaways from working with the DMARC food pantries is that food insecurity does not impact just minority or underprivileged populations, it impacts nearly every population. The pantry patron population differed based on which site they frequented; at the River Place location, we saw a lot of the older, white, and rural populations, many of which had already retired. Food insecurity is often created to be something that does not impact middle class Americans, or established Americans, removing many people from the issue. However, that was the one of the main populations that we saw in our pantry. Giving someone food does not cure their food insecurity, instead there are so many other needs that people have, many of which they lack the resources to fix. For instance, many people need more food than a once a month pass through the pantry, but they do not know where they can go to get more food, instead implementing budgeting of food stamps and eating high calorie, carb-loaded diets. Our focus group helped establish to us that people are looking for help that they cannot find, mostly because these resources are not accessible to everyone, including free/affordable healthcare, insurance, dental care, and clothing closets. The ability to interact with those that are food insecure humanized and grounded the issue for us, and gave us an invaluable lesson for our futures in health-related fields.
Over the course of this semester our team has been working with the local Drake IMPACT food pantry to evaluate their service and the needs of their patrons. Starting in the pantry itself, we got to experience how their system functions while working directly with the pantry clients to assist them in obtaining the food they need. Taking these clients through the pantry, we were able to learn a lot about the various strengths and weaknesses of the food pantry service. One of the largest weaknesses we found was in food quality and the freshness of items present within the pantry. Investigating these observations further, we transitioned into conducting one-on-one interviews with those visiting the pantry using a social determinants of health survey. The results of these surveys will be given to DMARC to continue their work in improving pantry services. Finally, we conducted a focus group with pantry patrons to further investigate issues present within the community that cannot be expressed in a simple survey format. Through open dialogue with 8 of these individuals, we learned a lot about issues present within the Drake community ranging from transportation to program effectiveness to even mental health.
Another component of our experience within this course was working with students from the INSTITUTO TECNOLÓGICO DE MONTERREY in Mexico. Exploring the theme of Global Health, we embarked on a journey of learning with these students as we researched various health issues present in both countries. Both the Drake and Tech groups also provided unique perspectives and data on the issues present within our respective communities. Building toward a collaborative presentation, the chance to work in a cross-cultural setting has been invaluable to our academic experience. As students pursuing careers in global health, understanding colleagues from various backgrounds and cultural settings will be vital to future work. We personally would recommend this course to not only anyone pursuing a career in global health, but to anyone looking to expand their knowledge on global health disparities that face the modern world.
In our experience at DMARC, we distributed surveys and conducted a focus group to receive more information about the clients at DMARC pantries, their needs, and their feedback. We had the opportunity to volunteer at the West Des Moines DMARC pantry, which recently began a program to encourage healthier eating. This program works by giving each food item a point value from 1-5, where healthier items are a 1 and less healthy items are a 5. Pantry users are allowed 36 points per visit, so if they choose healthier food items, they get to take more. Throughout our weeks at DMARC, we developed relationships with our pantry director, other volunteers, and clients.
Generally from the responses from the focus group, the clients who are using the West Des Moines pantry are very satisfied with their experience, especially because of the pantry’s dedication to providing fresh and healthy food. The overall lifestyle of the individuals who use the pantry has improved because of the healthy food that they are receiving. Additionally based on the survey responses, participants did not have too many concerns about food insecurity, meaning that they are being taken care of well at the pantry and are receiving adequate food. The largest need that we identified was that individuals need assistance with paying for their utility bills, which is an area of need that the West Des Moines pantry could work to address. Overall, the process of taking surveys and conducting the focus group felt like we were really making a difference to improve the West Des Moines pantry so that they can help their clients have the best experience possible – while giving the clients a voice for their needs to be heard.
“Fall seven times, stand up the eighth.” This is a quote that reminds me failure is a part of life, and I knew I’d be holding this quote close when I started my time serving at Habitat for Humanity. Not because I was planning on making mistakes, but because I knew there would be room for improvement and the only way I could continue to grow is if I chose to stand up.
My name is Rasleen (Raz-Leen) (Kuh-Car), and I am a first-year student at Drake University studying Computer Science and Information Systems with a minor in Data Analytics. Therefore, I was more than enthused when I learned I earned the opportunity to serve as the Data Analytics and Marketing Intern at the Greater Des Moines Habitat for Humanity – a nonprofit that helps low-income families with affordable housing. Overall, my time served at Habitat has been very beneficial. I have had the opportunity to develop more efficient methods in collecting, interpreting, and analyzing data. Additionally, I have attended a home dedication and helped the marketing team organize and execute a social event. Above all, my time at Habitat has been one of my biggest learning curves this school year.
Coming into Habitat, I had a decent amount of so called “book knowledge” in the areas of coding and data, but I had yet to experience the practical/industry aspect of the Information Technology (IT) field. Thankfully for me, I was blessed with an amazing and helpful supervisor and team that offered assistance whenever I needed a push in the right direction. With their help and support, I was soon up to speed with the current standings of projects and brainstormed ways to simplify processes while maintaining rich and valuable data. Later on, I would work on projects that involved sorting related data from multiple worksheets and condensing it into one. This was done by insuring duplicate and redundant data was removed, while making sure the integrity of the data had been maintained. These projects not only help me get used to working with industry level tools, such as Microsoft Excel, but it also helped me get accustomed to some of the industry level norms. For an example, maintaining data integrity or applying the agile methodology vs waterfall when working on projects. By having the opportunity to get hands-on experience, I was able to understand why it is important to maintain correct data. I was able to understand why it is important to break projects into small parts and periodically check in with your supervisor vs completing everything in one shot, because it helps ensure you are staying on the right track. This helps save both your time and company time and also makes the process much more efficient.
Aside from the benefits both Habitat and I reaped from our partnership, I was also able to witness the positive impact our work leaves on families by directly working with them. Earlier in the post, I had mentioned how I had the opportunity to attend a home dedication. Essentially, a home dedication is a small celebration Habitat organizes when a family finally receives the keys to their hard-earned home. This is a very significant moment, which takes place at the partner family’s home, because it marks the end of the countless hours they spent towards sweat equity. During this time, we also celebrate all the hours spent towards budget management and financial literacy. I believe this is very important because it aligns with one of Lupton’s, the author of Toxic Charity, principles of preserving one’s dignity and respect.”. Lupton stresses a lot on the fact that often times when we volunteer, many of the projects and services done are just “Band-Aids” – they help in the moment but are not a long-term solution. By having an accepted applicant(s) complete sweat equity and go through other training, the applicant(s) can feel proud of all the hard work they put into this process and get a feeling that they deserved this position. This process also helps develop lifelong skills the homeowner can use in order to maintain a good lifestyle and hopefully prevent them from going back in their footsteps.
Overall, having the opportunity to server as Data Analytics and Marketing Intern at the Greater Des Moines Habitat for Humanity has been both a valuable and humbling experience. I have had the ability to get familiar with some industry level norms, tools, and skills. Yet, at the same time I have also had the opportunity to play an active role in non-toxic charity. I learned by helping one build their skill sets, helps them become self-reliant and therefore break out of the cycle of poverty. My hope is to share my new learning experiences with current and future community partners to prevent unknown toxic charity from expending, and to continue to provide ways that encourage self-reliance. After all, if you “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime”.
Being a part of the Engaged Citizen Corps program has provided me with the tools and resources to be the caring, productive citizen I’ve always dreamed of being. This program is filled with kind, thoughtful, and caring people that take you on an exploration on how to give back to others in a way that helps more than it hurts. By learning that intent isn’t everything and that creating dependency is not productive, service learning is about giving and taking for both the community being helped and the student learning. I now volunteer and do activities that I know help communities.
Not only does this program provide insight into the toxic aspects of charity and the things that we need to improve on when giving back to others, it also provides real life experiences and ways to implement these tools of effective community service. Through this program each student gets paired up with their own non-profit, in which they help the organization in various ways. I can honestly say working at my non-profit has contributed to so many of the great memories I have from college so far. I work at Children Family Urban Movement, an organization that provides free after school programing for children of Moulton Elementary. The organization also provides breakfast and dinner to the kids and community members.
While at this organization I have helped with many different age groups but I have worked closely with a group of girls called the “Wonder Girls.” This program is designed to get fifth grade girls ready to go to middle school. It focuses on their emotions, friendship developing skills, working hard, kindness, giving back to others, and navigating the challenges of being growing young ladies. While working with the girls I have developed very close relationships with them and implemented different workshops, lessons, and programs to get the girls to better understand these topics. I had the great pleasure of creating a journaling program that allowed the girls to journal back and forth with me. This program not only allowed me to get closer with the girls and better understand their struggles, it also allowed me to give them advice and guidance on deep topics they may not feel comfortable discussing in front of their peers.
Working with these girls has truly been an honor and I learn more and more from them every time I go in. This experience is all thanks to the amazing Engaged Citizen Corps program and I will forever be grateful for the knowledge and experience this program gave me.
When I applied to be a member of the Engaged Citizen Corps, I was not really sure what I was getting myself into. I had a general idea of what the program was about and how it was structured, but I had no idea what I would actually be doing when it came to both the classes and the internship. As I near my goal of 300 service/training hours with AmeriCorps, it is time for me to reflect on what I have done and what I have learned.
My internship through the ECC is with Junior Achievement and it couldn’t be a better fit for me. Junior Achievement is, like every partner organization in the ECC, a non-profit. We focus on education and personal finance. Our main service is recruiting volunteers and sending them into classrooms to teach a curriculum about finances to the students. The grades taught can range from anywhere between kindergarten and 12th grade, though most classes fall in the K-4th range. We also have our JA Biztown and JA Finance Park capstone programs that take place at the Junior Achievement building.
I personally work best when I get a mix of tasks to do, and that is exactly what I am getting at Junior Achievement. One week I will be cutting stacks of paper into smaller pieces of paper and be creating a Bowl-a-Thon highlight video the next. I have gone to conferences, trained volunteers, produced music, and so much more at Junior Achievement. I am allowed and expected to do a variety of tasks that range from monotonous to essential and I love that.
Through working with Junior Achievement, I have learned so much about the Des Moines community. Because we work closely with businesses in the area and especially closely with the schools in the area, I have interacted with so many different people in so many different positions. I have been able to talk to local teachers and principals, students, CEOs, and everything in between. The networking opportunities are clearly not an issue. However, the main thing that I enjoy about being exposed to all these different kinds of people is that I get different perspectives on the community. I learn from the people directly what is going on in Des Moines and what they think of it. I also believe that nothing represents a community more than the schools in that community, so being able to not only interact with the students and teachers from those schools but actually go into some of them really makes me feel like I am a part of and making some kind of difference in the community.
This idea of becoming a part of the community you are trying to help is very important to Robert Lupton in his book Toxic Charity. We read this book for our first-year seminar class that is part of the ECC curriculum. In the book, Lupton focuses on making clear the best ways to go about service work. Getting to know the people you are trying to help is a really big concept to him, and I think that I have gotten to know the Des Moines community through the ECC and Junior Achievement in a way that I would not have been able to do otherwise. I feel as though this city is my home now. I am not a guest of these beautiful people at this point and that really makes me happy to feel like I am working alongside these people to help them rather than doing it because I have to.
All that being said, I am excited for the summer because Junior Achievement is actually keeping me as a summer intern once I am done with my ECC work. It was such a perfect fit for both me and the organization that it made sense for us both for me to continue working there. The work that I have done this school year for my organization has been fun (and it isn’t even over yet), and even the monotonous jobs I had to do sometimes were fine because I knew that I would be helping the community somehow, whether it was direct or indirect, no matter what I did. In the summer, however, I will be working more with students directly, so I will become even more familiar with the community. I learned so much through this program. I am now more conscious of the types of service work I do and the manner in which I do them. I perceive many issues (like homelessness or saving money) as ones that can actually be addressed and worked on. Not only that, but I am more confident in addressing and discussing these issues myself. Above all, I think that I am a more loving person because I see people in a more positive way than I did before. I really am glad that I applied for this program.
10 students and 2 faculty members travelled to Land Between the Lakes in Golden Pond, Kentucky during the week of March 17th-23
By Erin Opar, Graphic Design and Social Media Service Learning Ambassador
During the week, participants of the Alternative Spring Break trip, led by Service Learning Ambassador Bri Dressel, worked closely with the national recreational area in order to clean up trails and the land in general. Their work site was about an hour from their cabin, and they worked full days. The purpose of this trip was to challenge the traditional ideas of a college spring break; to challenge the ideas of binge-drinking, partying, and napping on beaches. This trip allowed participants to take part in something bigger than themselves, and in doing so, they were able to positively impact Land Between the Lakes.
Participants worked with the “triangle of quality service” in mind: direct service, education, and reflection. The direct service came into play through their work with the organization. It was very hands on, and, well, direct. The education came into play when participants learned about how the work they were doing impacted the organization and the community. When asked about the biggest take-away, many participants said they will be more conscious about their impact on nature and society, and how waste and trash affect the environment. This trip allowed them to learn in ways that are hard to replicate in a classroom setting.
Finally, the reflection aspect came into play on a daily basis. Participants were asked every day to reflect on the work they had done thus far. This happened in a variety of ways, including journaling, photo-reflection, surveys, and sculpting how they felt with Play-Doh. Through these reflections, participants became fully aware of the service they were doing and why it is important.
It wasn’t all work and no play, though! Participants were able to take a day-trip to Nashville, Tennessee, where they were free to shop, get a tattoo, eat at local restaurants, and take a break from all of their hard work. This was a favorite for many of the participants, and is a gentle reminder to take some time to enjoy yourself.
The food was pretty great, too. There was a set budget the accompanying faulty members were allowed to spend, and they maximized their food amount! There were no stoves at the campground, which started out as a potential problem, but quickly turned into a fun experience! The faculty members were in charge of cooking, which was done over an open flame, and were able to create delicious, almost gourmet meals for the students and themselves. Did you know, if you are in a pinch for money and need to eat, just buy V8 vegetable juice and veggies, cook them together on the stove, and viola! You have a yummy vegetable soup!
Overall, participants agree they had a meaningful service experience on this year’s Alternative Spring Break trip. We can’t wait to see what next year brings!
Hello, my name is Ashly Frazier and I am a first year Environmental Science major attending Drake University. This year I have had a wide range of opportunities in which I have been able to take part. One in particular unlocked my mind in a way that none of my previous experiences ever had; becoming a member of the Engaged Citizens Corps. Those involved are being armed with knowledge and understanding in order to combat social injustices. Each member of this cohort was partnered with a nonprofit in the Des Moines, community. I was united with Anawim Housing, which helps low-income members of the community and those currently experiencing homelessness obtain affordable housing. On my first day at Anawim, I was nervous out of my mind; I didn’t think I was going to establish a meaningful connection with my coworkers or those we served. I now realized how irrational this fear was.
This fear disappeared when I met Full Circle. This is a peer mentorship group for tenants who have experienced homelessness that congregates at Anawim every Friday to share a meal and discuss various topics. Frequently there are visitors who discuss various things such as job training or art therapy. Sometimes other nonprofits will visit and talk about some of the services they can provide. On this particular Friday, I was able to experience my first Full Circle discussion. Gathered in a circle under dimmed lights the leader read a poem about home. After, we were asked what home meant to us and how we defined home. The talking stick slowly made its way around the circle. Each person was given the option to voice their thoughts or to internally ponder the question as they listened to others.
Here I was, sitting in a ring with those who had at some point lost what they defined as home. I thought that, because I hadn’t, I wouldn’t be able to relate and that anything I said would detract from the deep meaningful discussion and reflection occurring before me. I have never experienced homelessness, but I was raised by a single mother, and monetary funds were in short supply. Due to my parents’ separation, I grew up always having a bag packed with enough clothes for a few days, always moving back and forth between two places. This continued until I was presented with a scholarship to attend a boarding school. I spent my last three years of high school there and by attending Drake, I am now entirely in a different state. I describe this situation and explained how my constant movement away caused me to limit the roots I planted at a place, and that I wasn’t sure exactly what home was to me in terms of a physical structure. I quickly gave up the speaking stick after I said all of this in a few rushed words. The person who received the stick next opened up herself and her heart to our group.
She talked about how home is more than just a structure. Home is the feeling you get by being in a place or with someone who makes you feel comfortable to be your true self. My down casted eyes met their warm brown eyes and the doubt I felt dissolved in an instant. I realized that while I may not have had the same experiences as those around me, there were similarities at the core of our stories. I understood how it felt to feel displaced and unable to establish myself in a space. As the conversation continued, I learned more about myself and Anawim’s cause. A home can change everything, but first you must determine what a home is for you. Is it the people around you? Is it the place where you grew up? Is it where you currently live?
Now think if you were experiencing homelessness and you were told there was an opportunity for you to get housing, but you weren’t ready to have a home. You would probably be taken aback, confused, and/or even upset. This is something Anawim strongly disagrees with. They believe housing is a right. It is for this reason that they follow the Housing First model. Housing First is the theory and practice that recognizes a person doesn’t have to be “housing ready” before they obtain housing. Utilizing this method, people referred to Anawim programs coming from homelessness are not required to be sober, have a job, good credit, no evictions on their record, or in any other way ready for housing. Housing is a basic human need. Without a safe, stable home, a person cannot begin to address their issues. However, once a person has a permanent roof over their head, an address to receive mail, a safe and stable place to keep their belongings, and to feel safe when they sleep, they will be much more equipped and likely to address their issues and needs. They will be able to focus on improving themselves and thriving, rather than just surviving.
Anawim values the dignity and autonomy of their program participants. One way this is shown is with harm reduction practices. For instance, if a tenant is addicted to a substance, the case manager will not force them to receive treatment for their addiction. Instead, the case manager will encourage the person to seek help, and provide them with information and resources, but also discuss steps they can take to increase their safety until they are ready to address their addiction. Ultimately, they recognize and respect that getting help is the tenant’s choice. While some may say that doing this only encourages the negative habit, I would argue that taking away someone’s choice in a matter eventually leads to resentment and relapse. Choice for one’s self is more powerful and meaningful than being shackled by another’s decisions. Eventually the goal is that the subtle and non-invasive persuasion of the case manager and the tenant’s own opinions align to a path of recovery.
These concepts and ideas of home and who receives the opportunity to have a home are why I appreciate the work Anawim Housing is doing and I am honored to help further these efforts. This organization has taught me to advocate for change in a way that is meaningful, while maintaining autonomy and dignity of those we serve; two things often trampled in the crusade. Every person deserves a home. With every discussion on this issue, we are taking one more step along the long road to prevent, remedy, and one day abolish homelessness. The question is, will you march with us?