10/27/09 — Students learn what it's like to be homeless

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Students learn what it's like to be homeless

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on October 27, 2009 1:46 PM

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Anthony Dobson, a sophomore at Wayne School of Engineering, participates in last weekend's homeless exercise outside the school. About 20 students took part in the activity, which raised more than $1,500 for the homeless shelter and Community Soup Kitchen.

Students at Wayne School of Engineering converged on the sidewalk outside the school Oct. 17 with decorated cardboard boxes -- lined with pillows and blankets -- to experience firsthand what it was like to be homeless.

The only difference was, the students admitted later, when the exercise was over, they got to walk away and go home.

But for a few hours on the cold Saturday morning, the "homeless project" raised their consciousness, and, they hope, those of others who drove past.

The effort was English teacher Lisa McGrath's idea, and was implemented by Tiffiany Nurse, integrated math teacher and sponsor for the ARC (agriculture research club).

"We're trying to make the kids more aware of those who are homeless and world hunger," Ms. Nurse said.

Sponsors donated money for the students to spend a portion of the day in a cardboard box.

It proved to be an interesting study, students said.

"I think because I had all these pillows and blankets, it felt real nice to stay in there," said Anthony Dobson, a sophomore. "I think maybe if we told them not to bring blankets and stuff, it would have been a lot harder and probably would have sent the message home a lot more."

"I had only one blanket and one pillow, and I felt claustrophobic," said Leigh Nelson, a junior, pointing out that the group "got to plan ahead ... We were in a better situation so we can't really compare ourselves to someone who's really homeless."

While some of the nearly two dozen students who participated stayed in boxes, others collected money from passersby -- or tried to.

"It kind of bothered me," said Robert Horton, a junior at the school. "Some people weren't even trying to pay attention to us. Even though they were stopped at a stop light, they wouldn't even look at us."

"What bothered me was when people pulled over and asked questions and then pulled away," Ms. Nelson said. "Some would drive past a few times, said they would give money. Then they drove by again and tried not to look at us."

Not everyone was unwilling to give, though. Some were simply unable.

"One guy who came by, when we asked him for a donation, said, 'How do I donate money when I'm homeless myself?'" Horton said. "Everyone there just felt stupid for a moment."

But it set the tone for the day.

"The whole point of getting in the box was to send a message to people -- this homeless issue is real," said Dobson, adding that it also worked for the students. "I think it really opened my eyes up to it because we haven't really seen a lot of homelessness."

For some, the awareness also came in the form of realizing that everyone can do something.

"Most of my family is in San Antonio," a larger area, where homelessness may be more prevalent, Ms. Nelson said. "I have always had that mindset of 'save the world,' even if I can't do that much myself." "I think that's the problem now. People always try to put the responsibility on one person," Dobson said. "It's everybody that got us in this mess. It's going to take everybody to get us out."

No matter how one becomes homeless, certainly help is needed. And students who participated in the activity came away with a greater awareness of being part of a solution.

"It inspired me to go out and do some more stuff. Why stop there?" Dobson said.

The project was definitely worthwhile, all agreed -- raising $1,000 from sponsors, more than $500 from Saturday's event. The money will be divided between the homeless shelter and Community Soup Kitchen.

"I have definitely told a lot of my friends that weren't there about the experience," Dobson said. "It's definitely something I want to do next year."

Ms. Nelson credited Wayne School of Engineering with supporting such ideas.

"The school encourages us to get out there and help," she said. "They want us to volunteer because the world doesn't revolve around us."

Another fundraiser for world hunger is planned for next month, Ms. Nurse said. The ARC Fall Festival, planned for Saturday, Nov. 14, will be held at the Goldsboro High School football field from noon until 5 p.m. featuring food and games.