Good Samaritans

Good Samaritans

By far, my favorite program that The Washington Center offers has been the Civic Engagement project. I first heard about it in mid-January, talking on the phone with Josh, my Program Advisor, about what I should expect in D.C. "So you mean on top of a 32-hour per week internship, weekly class, "programming" for several hours Monday afternoons, AND my independent study, I have to spend 15 hours over the course of the semester helping people? Why? How? When?"


As it turns out, TWC's Civic Engagement Projects are a lot easier to complete than they appear pre-orientation, and are definitely worthwhile experiences (maybe even more valuable than the Almighty Career Boot Camp...?!). Civic Engagement Projects are a mixture of classroom sessions and service/advocacy hours which center on one specific social issue. TWC offers about 8 or 9 projects run by staff members, which range from topics such as homelessness to animal welfare to LGBTQ rights. Interns can also choose to create their own project (an assignment which terrified me during orientation, when the staff mentioned that technically, there wasn't enough space in the pre-planned projects for everyone). The projects are supposed to take up about 15 hours over the course of the semester--which, it turns out, actually isn't that much time, if you consider that five 2-hour classroom sessions on alternating Monday mornings only leaves you with about 5 hours of service to complete.


I'm participating in the homelessness Civic Engagement Project, run by the wonderful Jacki Banks. Jacki has arranged our classroom sessions to focus on the causes of homelessness in the U.S. (and especially in D.C.), the deconstructing of common rhetoric on people who are homeless, and the best way that we can help out. Last week, she had 3 speakers who had all previously been homeless to come in and talk with us about their experiences. Listening to them talk was definitely an eye-opener; two of the three speakers had come from solid middle-class backgrounds with well-paying jobs and supportive families before ending up losing their homes through a very quick series of bad luck and poor decisions. Their overall messages were ones of caution, but they were much less stay-in-school, don't-do-drugs than I expected. The main lesson they wanted to teach us was that homelessness can happen to anyone, at any time; the best defense we can have against it is building and staying close to a support network of friends and family, and not isolating ourselves when things get rough. That's the best anyone can do--besides advocating for more affordable housing.


Yesterday, as part of my service hours, I went with a group of 5 other interns to Samaritan Inns, a part shelter, part rehab center, which runs 28 day programs designed to give men and women reliable housing and support to overcome their addictions. We were there from 3 to 7 to prepare and serve dinner for a group of about 14 people. I was a little worried before we went--our group didn't have the best communication leading up to Sunday evening--but everything turned out great. I was in charge of making a minestrone soup, and Jemma, the girl who had the idea for the 6 of us to go, was in charge of two Chinese dishes: an egg and tomato dish and a stir-fry with chicken, carrots, mushrooms, and peapods (all served with 5 lbs of rice).


Minestrone soup, pre-pasta addition.


Jemma's stir fry ingredients.


A little bit of rice.


Needless to say, the food was delicious (my soup was a big hit)! We served dinner a few minutes after five, and then sat down to eat and converse for an hour-and-a-half with the residents. I was a little bit shy at the beginning, wondering what exactly we'd talk about, but I ended up talking to the same woman for over an hour about her family and experiences at Samaritan Inn. Like Jacki's sessions, it was a great way to dismantle a lot of stereotypes on homelessness and just break down barriers in general. If I have time, I'd like to go back and do it again before the semester ends--which is something that I definitely did not expect I would say when I heard about the project two months ago.

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