Author: Amanda Martin

Service-learning allows students in “Homelessness in America” experience the content in a unique way

By Amy Knudsen, Homelessness in America Professor

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”.”

Leveling the Playing Field

Kate Gallinero

The WHAT

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.

The WHY

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.

Girl Scouts are more than cookies and crafts

By Kaylee Trego, Engaged Citizen Corps Member

Learning the Craft

My name is Kaylee and I am a first-year student at Drake University. When looking at colleges, one of the reasons Drake stuck out to me is because of their Engaged Citizens Corps, or the ECC, a scholarship program that accepts ten first year students. Each of the students are assigned to a non-profit organization to intern at. My organization is the Girl Scouts of Greater Iowa. They have impacted me in ways that I never expected. I have done a complete 180 in my major, switching from Public Relations to Elementary Education, and I have learned more about developing programs than I ever thought I would need to know.

Changing The Future

Girl Scouts of Greater Iowa, or GSGI, is based in Des Moines, Iowa and in Sioux City, Iowa. I work in the Des Moines office. One of my favorite parts of working with GSGI is staff-led troop meetings. I have had the opportunity to work with four troops over the course of the last semester and a half, and each one teaches me more than the one before.

Changing My Future

What I have learned most from my experience in the Engaged Citizens Corps is that I have a passion for teaching. Through Girl Scouts I have been able to develop lessons and put them to action in troop meetings. This is part of what inspired me to pursue Education over Public Relations, But, my own internship site has not been the only influence on my major change. Part of our scholarship requirements is that we must volunteer at another ECC members site. One of my classmates is interning at Junior Achievement and needed to recruit volunteers to teach a 5-lesson program in a classroom. I volunteered to take a program for first graders, and I was a little nervous because I had never had to teach a lesson by myself. But, working with the students I learned that it wasn’t just something I could do, it was something I enjoyed. This completely changed my outlook on my career and showed me that I still had room to grow and learn.

Getting Involved

The Engaged Citizens Corps has provided me with an incredible amount of opportunities. Through Girl Scouts I had been able to attend day trips to the Iowa capitol building with the girls. I also was fortunate enough to attend the Governors Luncheon for Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts. This is the only event that the Iowa Councils do together and one of the only events that the organizations do together all across the country. Experiencing this was incredible, especially in a time where tensions between Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts are fairly high. Since Boy Scouts announced they would be accepting girls there has been an undeniable tension between the two organizations. However, in this event they came together to discuss all of the positive effects that scouting has on Iowa. It was amazing to experience alongside my coworkers.

It’s Been Great

I can’t express how grateful I am to have been accepted into the program. There are not enough words to describe how positively it has shaped my first year in college. Some of my closest friends have even been found through the program. I am so thankful that I had the opportunity to work alongside the Girl Scouts of Greater Iowa and Drake University. If given the opportunity to go back and do my first year again, I would absolutely participate in this program again.

The Power and Impact of Mentoring

By Russell White

Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.” -Jack Welch, chairman and CEO of General Electric between 1981 and 2001.

My name is Russell White and I graduated from Drake in May of 2018 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Politics and International Relations. I currently serve as an AmeriCorps VISTA member with the Iowa Mentoring Partnership (IMP) at Volunteer Iowa. My work is related either to capacity building and sustainability for mentoring programs, or I am engaging in outreach via social media, email and phone. I am tasked with helping give technical assistance to mentoring programs and helping them create the structure their programs need to be successful in serving Iowa’s youth. Often, I get the pleasure of listening to personal stories from mentors, mentees and parents/guardians about the amazing impact mentoring has on their lives. Nothing is more fulfilling than knowing that you are helping to improve the lives of children across an entire state; knowing that you truly are making a difference it people’s lives. But, I didn’t end up at the IMP randomly, it was quite deliberate. For you see, I am passionate about youth development and mentoring. Why? Well, I myself am a mentor. I mentor a young boy named Aiden who attends Monroe Elementary School, which is not that far from Drake University’s campus.

I began mentoring Aiden in the fall semester of 2017 of my senior year at Drake. At the time, Kerry King of Fraternity and Sorority Life (FSL) put together a new service opportunity between Drake FSL and Monroe Elementary’s afterschool program. When I first heard of this opportunity I was excited by it, mostly because I enjoy volunteering with kids; it is honestly a blast. The Spring before, a group of FSL students attended Monroe Elementary for several hours and spent time with the kids. We read them books, talked with them and even played a few games with them. Needless to say, it was perhaps one of the best ways to volunteer. So, upon hearing about this new opportunity to spend time at Monroe Elementary once a week for an hour with their afterschool program it seemed like a no-brainer! A handful of other Drake students and I signed on to be volunteers in the fall of 2017.

Upon my first visit to Monroe I was taken outside with the kids to the playground. That is when I met Yolanda Shields, the director of the afterschool program, and, as I would learn, a terrific individual to be around. After meeting her and explaining I was a Drake student here to volunteer, she quickly referred me to a student of hers that was writing a book and needed help. Since I was a college student, both her and the student thought I could lend a little bit of help. That student was Aiden. Our first day together Aiden and I sat at the base of the jungle gym and spent the entire time working on his story. At first, this might seem only like a cute activity that he and I did together on our first day. However, prior to sitting down with Aiden I was informed that Aiden has ADHD. So, sitting down for a long period of time and focusing on one particular thing doesn’t exactly come naturally to him. At the same time, he sometimes gets so hyperactive that he bounces off the walls in his classroom and causes both disruption and trouble. Sitting down with Aiden, it became clear to me that he was not at all a bad kid. He is similar to most kids his age: has a hard time with sharing, loves to play video games, has a silly sense of humor and just loves to play around. He and I hit it off on my first visit to Monroe and I had informally become his mentor.

I would go back to see Aiden most weeks; I did my best to try every week, but sometimes I could only do every other week. But every time I would walk through the door and he saw me a big smile would grow on his face. Those moments always felt rewarding. He and I would almost do the same thing whenever I came to visit him. We would go out into the hallway, sit down on the floor, I pull out my phone and we begin to watch video game clips on YouTube. At the time, Aiden’s video game obsession was a 2D dungeon/adventure/mining scroller called Terraria. Luckily, I knew of the game prior to him showing me and that excited him that I knew what he was talking about. He and I began to bond over video games and we would show each other videos and just watch them every time I visited. But, I would also get him to play some board games with me, like Candyland, Battleship and even Chess. Surprisingly a 10-year-old kid likes to play Chess.

At the same time though, I would talk with Aiden about how things are at home. How school and class was going. Just anything that was going on in his life, and he would open up more and more to me with every visit. I would also try to work with him on how he interacts with other students; teaching him to be more kind and more willing to share with his classmates. By the end of my senior year, I could already see a difference in his behavior. To see and witness the change in him was such a rewarding feeling. But, my time with Aiden also had an affect on me. It made me more responsible and considerate of others. Whenever you’re a mentor, you have to be reliable and consistent with your mentee. That consistency and reliability translated to other aspects of my life. It also just made me happier, to be honest. Being around Aiden and simply playing games, watching video games and hanging out had a real positive impact on my own mental health. It also inspired me to keep mentoring and to help spread the culture of mentoring. Because of my time with Aiden, I have become passionate about the mentoring field which is a considerable reason for why I chose to serve with the Iowa Mentoring Partnership. I still mentor Aiden to this day. In fact, I intend to see him tomorrow after work and bring in his favorite snack: Takis.

People underestimate the power and impact of mentoring. The impact of a mentoring relationship doesn’t just affect the mentee, but it affects the mentor and the parents/guardians too! In a mentoring relationship, you are helping your mentee realize THEIR potential, while the mentee is helping you realize YOUR OWN potential and worth as well. You build each other up and it is a beautiful dynamic to be a part of. You become a friend, a big brother/sister, a role model. You’re just there for them. It is as simple as that. Someone they can count on and know that no matter what, they (you) will be there. It is one of the most rewarding feelings you could ever receive in life. All the while, I only spent one hour a week with him. That is only four hours a month. Think about all of the hours you spend in a month doing practically nothing. So, let me ask you this: What will you do with your four hours? Nothing? Or change a kid’s life for the better?

Homelessness in America

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.-