The Allbritton Spotlight is a Q&A series highlighting students engaged in the local community through the Allbritton Center for the Study of Public Life, the Center for Community Partnerships, and the Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship. These students dedicate their time to a diversity of projects from tutoring middle school students to advocating for sexual health education to providing translation services in Middletown!
How long have you been a part of the Hunger and Homelessness Program?
I have been a coordinator since the beginning of my sophomore year, when I worked with Evan Bieder ’15 on raising awareness among the Wesleyan population about the issues of poverty and homelessness in Middletown and our nation at large.
Based on two surveys we conducted last year, it seemed that the majority of Wesleyan students are generally cognizant of the severity of hunger and housing deficiencies within our country, though few were attuned to what a ‘living wage’ would actually represent.
This year, the program is being reshaped to do more outreach work with the community in Middletown. In one such program we are collaborating with the Real Food Challenge to create recipes from items available at the Amazing Grace Food Pantry. Cooking classes will then be held in which those recipes are taught to families. Through this initiative we are hoping to change the perspective on the ease of cooking ‘healthy’ meals and encourage better eating habits.
How did you first hear about this program and what motivated you to become involved in it?
During my freshman year, I attended a few talks and film screenings put on by the program. Living in a somewhat heterogenous neighborhood growing up, I thought I knew a lot about poverty and the housing crisis in our country. As was true with many of my beliefs, Wesleyan found a way to deconstruct them and turn them upside down. Fueled by the immense change that my own perspectives underwent, I found it necessary and worthwhile to undertake work that would work to change others’ opinions of the issues we face as a nation, perhaps motivating them to give more of their time and resources to worthy causes.
How has the program had an impact on you? What is your most memorable experience in the program?
Yes, as noted above my entire idea of what means to be homeless or in poverty in the US has changed tremendously in the past two years. When doing research for the surveys our program put on last year I was shocked to learn how few people realize that job loss is the number one source of homelessness for families. Most attribute it to drug abuse, which is true for individuals, but not so for couples with children. With this in mind, we went about flyering statistics around campus, hoping to make other students more aware of the actual state of homelessness in the United States.
What kinds of relationships have you formed through your work?
Because the program has focused almost exclusively on raising awareness during my tenure, there hasn’t been a large amount of interaction with other organizations. In the coming year I expect that with our shifting focus, we will begin to form lasting relationships with people in the community working to make structural as well as ameliorative changes to the current system.
What advice would you give to a prospective member of this program?
Anyone who is interested in influencing how other students view homelessness and poverty in the context of Middletown and the US at large should consider joining the Hunger and Homelessness Program. Through our outreach initiatives this year we are planning to simultaneously make a difference in the lives of Middletown residents while also helping students realize the value of service and its connection to achieving a larger goal.
Do you work with CCP, OCS, or PCSE and want to be interviewed for this series? Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org