Friday, March 29, 2013

It's Not the End, It's the Beginning!

There are many things that could I reflect upon after this week long adventure in Washington D.C.  For example, I could talk about the amazing people that we met and how we (as a group) will hold on to their stories for the rest of our lives.  I could talk about the service work we did and how it has inspired us all to do more and act more in ways that will change the world.  I could also talk about all the food we ate and all the food we didn’t eat (especially during the homeless challenge).  OR I could talk about how the city comes alive at 4a.m. and wakes the street sleepers up with it.  But I can’t.  I can’t talk about those things.  

It is not that those experiences weren’t amazing to me—because they were.  But through this whole trip there was one constant, beautiful, even more amazing thing that I encountered. This was a life changing trip for me and it is all because of the people on it.

To Cristina, Kate, Taty, Steven, Maleni, Mariya, Muna, Jezebel, Ayja Pa, and Corinne, thank you.

You are a young group of world changers and I feel so honored to have been the staff member on your trip.  Each day you had me smiling, you had me excited, you had me happy, and you had me remembering why I came on this trip—to show the world that there is goodness and it is in the form of people serving people.  You all were open to trying new things and having new experiences in ways that, when I was a student at HU, I don’t think I would have been able to do.  I can’t explain how proud I am of you and the work that you have done this week. Each and every one of you are strong individuals who will make the world a much better place.  Thank you for everything that you have done and will continue to do.  Keep being the people you were on this trip and one day, sooner than you think, homelessness will end and it will because of you. 

I love you all and couldn’t be a prouder Mama Maryse.  Thank you.  Thank you. Thank you. 

Reflections on the Week: 03/23-03/29

Well, here we are. We've finished our final reflection for the week, and most everyone has headed off to bed (or to pack). Tomorrow we'll be leaving the hostel at ("What time are we meeting?!") 7:15 am, headed home to Minnesota.

I can't believe it's been a whole week. It feels like yesterday that twelve of us were gathered in Sorin at 3:30 am, shy, but mostly tired, nonetheless virtually silent, anxious at what the week would bring. Personally, after spending months planning the trip and preparing the group for the service we would be doing, I was very nervous. I had high hopes that the group would learn a lot, make bonds, and grow together. This was the third Catalyst trip I had been on during my time at Hamline, and while I was ecstatic about returning to Washington and continuing the work on homelessness, a part of me was also very scared that the trip wouldn't be meaningful. Mostly, I was worried that the Homeless Challenge wouldn't work out--I was honestly somewhat apathetic towards it the first time I completed it, but this year, I was excited and willing, but unsure about the rest of the group.

I was so wrong.

There really isn't one word that can express exactly how impressed, inspired, amazed, moved, and energized I am about the group of people that has emerged from this experience. It is really an exhilarating feeling to be surrounded by a group of people that are as passionate as they are, as educated and learned as they are, as motivated as they are, and as inspired they are to be doing this work. We've had an interesting week. More times than not we've been exhausted, with sore and blistered feet; we've been hungry, tired and even dreading the next time we had to get out of our beds. But every day, everyone gave their full effort to the service work we were doing. Every day during reflection, everyone shared something that they learned from the day, and every day I was moved by the deep analysis and quality of thought that came out of the day.

For many, if not all, I feel like this trip really was a catalyst--a springboard for the subsequent action that will ensue when we return to Minnesota. A fire truly has started here, and is burning bright as I write this blog post. We talked about the fact that there is no reason why the fire needs to die when we go back to Minnesota. There really is no legitimate justification for falling back on stereotypes and ignorance. By participating in this trip, and engaging in meaningful discussion, we have all equipped ourselves to defeat ignorance surrounding homelessness, one step at a time. I am confident that the lessons learned here will resonate loudly at home, and that waves will roll. I am confident that this group of people will accomplish much regarding homelessness, and I am so proud and honored to have been a part of this experience.

Upon our return to our privileged homes, in our privileged lives, it is my hope that we will all remember all of the individuals we met and spoke with and shared time with this past week. It is my hope that we all remember to think critically about homelessness, and always continue to fight the ignorance and stereotypes that plague this issue that really is hidden in plain sight.

Before I close, I would like to share one piece of knowledge with you, readers, that we've talked about this week, with the hope that you will take this information and use it to stop the perpetuation of the "us-them" mentality pandemic. When talking about homelessness, and specifically referencing or talking about individuals experiencing homelessness, be aware of your language. Be aware that homelessness is not an identity, and that we should try to semantically separate homelessness from individuality, as homelessness is but one period of time in a person's life. While a person may have been brought up in homelessness, experiencing homelessness is not inherent to their person. Instead of using terms such as "homeless person," or "homeless people" to talk about the entire group of individuals who are homeless, try to use language such as "experiencing homelessness." This way, we can separate the experience of homelessness from a person's inherent identity. Moreover, we don't typically use terms such as "the housed" in everyday language, as this generalizes an entire class of diverse, unique individuals. The same principle guides the resistance from using terms such as "the homeless" to make general statements about every member of the community without homes that is diverse and unique in and of themselves. Please be aware of your language. Use these new terms when you talk about homelessness--and this change may spark others' awareness as well.

Please continue to talk about this issue--make people aware of how critical an issue it is, and continue to transform your words into action.

See you all next year~
<3 Cristina

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Thursday 3/28/13

We started our day off by volunteering at Christ's House. At this place we learned about the people who reside there. They are men without houses who have medical problems. At this place, we split up into two groups. One group planted pulled old flowers and planted new ones. The other group cooked the food for everybody. After we were done with these tasks, we joined together with the men and sat and ate with them.    Soon after, we cleaned up the dishes and headed out for Senator Franken's office.

At Senator Franken's office we met with his assistant and discussed issues with housing in Minnesota. One thing that I found shocking was that because of the sequester, all areas lose funding. This is bad because that means that people who live in Section 8 housing, may possibly become homeless. We learned that homelessness is not one of the top priorities because not that many constituents have brought it up as an issue. In order to get this as a higher priority, she told us that we need to write our representatives.

Lastly, we went to D.C. Central Kitchen. At the kitchen we did a lot of food preparation. We did things such as make sandwiches, cut potatoes, and peel the skin and fat off of turkey. When we were done with that, we had a community dinner with the high school group that was there volunteering with us.

28 March: Christ House, Meeting with Emily Hogin, and D.C. Central Kitchen

Today was an extremely tiring yet satisfying day. We started the day off at Christ House, which is an organization that provides medical care, healthcare, and housing services for individuals who are experiencing homeless. My volunteer work at that organization involved mainly packing and unpacking food. We also managed to meet a bunch of wonderful people including Hollywood who works in the kitchen and Bob who happens to have also worked at the White House through his own catering company. Serving the people there was a great experience, though later on in the day I began realizing how significant our contributions really were.

            After our service at Christ House, we met with Senator Al Franken’s assistant who deals with Housing and health care services: Emily Hogin. Our meeting was not what I expected especially since it seemed like she was not prepared for the visit. Though we ended up standing outside of her office, I still noticed that we managed to make an impact by drawing her attention to the problem of homelessness. Even though there are acts being put into place to help students who are at risk for homelessness, I still believe there is a lot we can do to continue drawing attention to this issue, which includes writing to our representative and having talks with our friends and family. Overall, meeting Al Franken’s assistant really shows the importance of talking with those who represent us in legislature in order to show them that issues such as homelessness are significant and deserve proper consideration.

            Finally, we ended our service at D.C. Central Kitchen, which serves up to 5,000 individuals who are low income and may be experiencing homelessness. Our work there was especially energizing because our group drive and energy was especially inspiring. It was also really amazing to learn that the food we made also goes to the places we have served throughout the trip such as Rachael’s Woman Center and Christ House. Serving with a group of wonderful, inspiring people has also made service a worthwhile and fun endeavor. Regardless of what happens in the future, I feel like I definitely hope to continue servicing and advocating with and for individuals who are experiencing homelessness. This experience, again, has been really life-changing, and I hope to bring all that I have learned back to campus and the greater Twin Cities Area.


Wednesday, March 27, 2013

03/27: D.C. helps back

Today Wednesday March 27, we went to two different sites. First we went to Bread for the City then we went to Catholic Charities. 
*Bread for the City is an organization that helps anyone who needs a helping hand by providing them with multiple services such as providing clothes, food, medical care, dental care, etc. Here we helped organized the donated clothes into bags, help bag food in the food pantry, got a tour of the building and ate lunch.
At this site I saw how many youths and working adults would take their time into to help someone we needed help. Also they did not discriminate and label someone experiencing homelessness as homeless but as someone who just needs help and that they were willing to help them.
*After we took the Metro bus to Catholic Charities where we help clean the house. There are six people who lives in the house. Each of the people that lives in the house have their own room and they paid a portion of the cost to live there because they have some kind of mental disability. Although we did not get the time to meet them it was nice to know that we can help by cleaning the common living of their for home for them. 
       After the homeless challenge I had a lot of negative thoughts towards D.C.'s role in not doing much about their issue with people experiencing homelessness. However after going to a few sites in D.C. that 
help people who are experiencing homelessness and reflecting on the people that I already knew who take their time and help people who are homeless, I saw that even if D.C. have a greater amount of people who are experiencing homelessness, they also take the time to help each other, give back and probably has one of the biggest support communities. Concluding our day we had an awesome group reflection about language and a good amount of us talked about how the media creates a lot of stereotypes as we were growing up but how now we see and face reality and hope to be the change we want to see, like our amazing Catalyst trip motto. And a few of us went to get ice cream. Hehe. Unfortunately I was not one of them, but it's okay I had some yesterday. 

Pa Xiong V.
2013 D.C. Catalyst Trip Team Awesome Sauce :) 

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Our challenge has come to an end, the morning started off really early. We went to the National Coalition for the Homeless. Not only had my perspective on the homeless community changed, but the challenge also gave a huge impact to my life. If someone told me that I will be sleeping outside for two nights, I'd probably not believe it. But doing the homeless challenge where I was homeless for 48 hours;I now understand that it takes a very strong person to make it through the night in the streets. I learned that society has become very sanitized when it comes to the homeless community. I remember how invisible I felt as I tried to ask for money when I portrayed as a homeless person. I didn't realized how fortunate I was until I heard the stories of the different people in the homeless community. This morning we talked about our highs, lows, and new perspectives of the last 24 hours of the homeless challenge. During this time, something that really stood out to me was when Steve, one of our guides during the nights of the homeless challenge, said "Even when you feel like your parents are being harsh, and being hard on you they are only doing this because they care and your success is your parents success." This really stood out to me because I have those parents, and I know that a lot of the stories interconnected. Such as when they shared their stories, many of the homeless said that they didn't have that support system, which brings me back to the point that my parents have always wanted what is best for me. I know that once I get back home I will let them know how thankful I am. The homeless are just like any other human being, why treat them differently? When I return home I plan on acknowledging every person who needs a helping hand. I hope to also start a food drive on campus.We also need to learn the stories of people because we would never understand why a person became homeless in the first place. Like some of the guides stated we have lawyers, doctors, educators that are now homeless. Homelessness can possibly happen to anyone; it does not discriminate. This is an experience that I will always carry on in my life and share with others. Learning about the homelessness by taking the role of a homeless person is an experience that I would never change because I have gained and saw a lot of perspective from society and self reflection. I hope to continue to be the change that our society needs in order for us to progress.

-Maleni Mendoza-Garcia

Taty's First Few Days Rolled Into One Post

Group Picture (Some not pictured)

Since we have been so busy with the homeless challenge, today was the first time that I truly got to start to process my thoughts. In the last few days I have gained so much in experiences that I would not give up for anything. I do not think I expected this trip to have this great of an impact on how I view the world. Yet with our experiences over the last 48 hours, I have a completely different outlook on life than I did before I got on the plane for this trip.

As we entered into the 48-hour homeless challenge we were all quite nervous to be entering into a situation that we had barely any experience with. We were introduced to the challenge, given blankets, and told where we were going to meet up that night. We were then set free to wonder the streets of DC as homeless individuals.

I do not think I can even begin to explain to you what we experienced. You all will just have to come experience it for yourself. Our experience with the inhumanity of people that believe that they are above you is one of the most demeaning feelings. We were encouraged to panhandle, watch people’s reactions, and just expose ourselves to emotionally vulnerable situations. We went through the first 12 hours allowing ourselves to gain a glimpse of what the homeless community feels on a daily basis. By the end of the day we were exhausted and ready to settle down to go to sleep.

Sleeping outside!
The night time was probably the start of where I felt like I gained something out of the trip. We were given the luxury of having guides that showed us where it was safe to sleep, watched over us throughout the night, and shared their life story with us. Their insight on the homeless community was honest and humbling. While we slept we were exposed to the cold and the elements of being outside. Some of us were told to move throughout the night and move on to a different place. Needless to say it was not the most comfortable sleeping situation I have ever had.

One of the biggest things I gained out of this experience was having the stereotypes I had about the homeless community completely torn apart. During the last few days I have met some of the most amazing people ever. Some of them have been dealt the harshest hands in life and treated horribly by society. Even through that they still are still the most caring, humble, truthful, fun, and loving people. They opened my eyes to a community that I have been taught to ignore. The issue of homelessness is always talked about but I do not think many people want to take action. They are thought of as being a group that can be put on the back burner. Through this experience I had my privilege laid out in front of me and through this I and others can start to make movements. We can always work harder and there is no excuse. There is definitely a lot that needs to be done in our society, which can be seen through many different perspectives. Yet, homelessness is one of the many that needs more awareness than it is given.