By Amy Knudsen, Professor of “Homelessness in America”,  SCSS 076

In putting together my class, Homelessness in America, I knew that the best way to fully understand this complicated and multi-layered problem was to provide an opportunity for service learning.

This was accomplished by connecting with community organizations that spoke to the class on a variety of topics, conducting volunteer work at local shelters and designing and implementing a class project that would educate 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 and Iowa Homeless Youth Center’s (IHYC) Outreach Center. Students cleaned, sorted donations and made tie bags for residents.

For the group project students wanted to educate the Drake community on youth homelessness and we partnered with IHYC for the project. Another class on campus, LEAD 100, was also doing a similar project so we combined our efforts. The event, held on April 18th provided a homeless simulation for students and students made tie blankets for the youth. In addition, donations of personal hygiene products were collected. Approximately 25 students attended, 17 blankets were made and several boxes of donations collected.

The success of the class was seen in the student’s reflections:

“..this class and this project have taught me so much about homelessness that I could not have gotten anywhere else. The tours and speakers helped me conceptualize what we learned in class, and this event further helped that. I hope that our project will open the eyes of other students across campus, and maybe even start to break down the stigma a lot of us have. Even if we help just one homeless person, or change one person’s mind, it’s worth it.”

“I learned a lot through this experience, in many way I did not really expect. Going into this class, I expected to learn about homelessness but I was not aware that we would able to do things that actually help out the homeless. Through the event, I learned all of the work that goes behind planning a large donation event like this and just how difficult it can be to gather support for the issue you are trying to address. That is something that shelters and nonprofits face every day and I was extremely unaware of that. The simulation at the event also helped enforce the ideas that I had learned in class. I became aware of just how unpredictable homelessness is and how you can be faced with large obstacles at every turn that completely turn your world upside down.”

“Through this semester, I feel like I have learned a lot about myself. I’m sure that all freshman say that as they leave their first year of school but I feel that this class has really helped with my own internal growth. I learned about my passion for volunteering. I volunteered when I had the time in high school but seeing all this injustice brought to light around me has made me want to step up and do more. Volunteering makes a big difference in so many people’s lives and I’m sad that I haven’t done more of it until now. I have already set up a monthly volunteering spot at a local homelessness shelter back home and at the local food shelf so I’m eager to get home and help out even more. I have also learned how to better work in a group setting. I worked with groups of people I didn’t know a lot this semester and it really helped me grow a lot as a person.”

“The most important thing that I have learned throughout this experience is the crisis of youth homelessness and how it can affect education. As someone who grew up in a stable household I never considered how hard it would be to have to move schools all the time because you didn’t have a stable home. The effect of these moves on a person’s education was something that I had not considered and had never really thought about. I also never considered how hard it would be to access personal hygiene as a homeless youth. Most schools have showers in the locker rooms, but if a person is constantly switching schools or even no longer attending school this does not help them. Along with that most people donate clothing of food items and not pads and tampons or other more expensive and less socially glorified items that are necessary for women to have and use.”

Benjamin Franklin once said, “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.” And I think this was true this semester.-