Young people making a difference during spring break.

Posted: April 20, 2013 by thehomelesspage in Activism, Culture, Events, Organizations, Original Stories, People, Uncategorized

By: Kolby Ford

church sign

For most 18 year olds, partying on the beach during vacation is a must, but these young adults traveled with their church groups from Rhode Island and Massachusetts to Washington DC to prepare a warm dinner for the poor. “I cant describe how good of a feeling it is to help others,” says Daniel Roach. This was made possible through the Youth Service Opportunities Project service meal. It gives  people a chance to make a difference in the lives of others.  At the dinner, the volunteers take ownership in preparing and serving the food.  The feast included, meatloaf, garlic bread, a huge salad, and cupcakes for dessert.

Sarah DeGrandpre is the Washington DC program director and she believes that it is imperative for the organization to create a community vibe with the guests.”We want to create a warm community environment so they can focus on things other than whats going on outside of YSOP,” says DeGrandpre.

The non-profit originally started in New York city in 1983.  Twenty-three years later the organization made its home at the Church of Epiphany in Washington DC. Over 500,000 underprivileged citizens were served last year in New York and DC.

Before the dinner starts, the team was briefed on what to expect when the guests arrive.  They are encouraged to start conversations and take pictures as long as the visitors agree of course.  There were games such as checkers and UNO to play.  It was interesting to see these teenagers walk up to perfect strangers and start talking like they had known these people their whole lives.  “We work with youth to develop an understanding for the causes of homelessness, and to dispel stereotypes, people that are homeless are people first,”DeGrandpre says.  Last year a total 3,774  people volunteered in the YSOP work camps. The length of service can vary from a day, to a whole week.

It was 16 year old Evan Schoaf’s first time working with YSOP. He is from an upper middle class   neighborhood in Rhode Island and says that poverty isn’t as obvious as it is in other cities.  As the Barrington Church member spread some garlic butter on toast he told me, “I get to experience things I don’t see all the time.  It makes me feel good that Im making a difference in someones life.”

Erin Gamache loves volunteering and has been doing so since her freshmen year of high school.  This was also her first YSOP experience and the sense of rapport  is what separates them from other charitable associations.  “I feel that here, we are building a bond with someone you would normally pass by on the street, this is what sets it a part,” says Gamache.  The 18 year old adds that,  “here the service is physical and emotional, you are giving companionship.”

Supper started at 6:30 pm  but before the festivities started, we gathered in a circle and took a moment of silence.  A representative from each church introduced themselves as well as the camp leaders.  Then it was time to eat.

I sat down across from a homeless man named Trent.  He had been on the streets since 2001. We talked about how community service creates a more well rounded person. ” I wish I could have done something like this when I was young,” he says. I asked him how big of an impact does the service meal have on his life. The DC native told me, “When you are living on the streets, you dont get no rest, sleep deprivation-you go to bed when everything settles down and you get up before it starts up again.”  The service meal offers a time for him and his comrades to relax and let their guard down.

According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, “a majority of persons identified as homeless were staying in emergency shelters or transitional housing, but 38% were unsheltered, living on the streets, or in cars, abandoned buildings, or other places not intended for human habitation.”

Leaders in YSOP are trained to become managers of their own philanthropic organizations in  the future .  Rich Henderson is the current YSOP AmeriCorp Fellow which means that he is in charge of all the event programming among other important duties.  “I love service, its always been a huge part of my life.  YSOP inspired me when I was on my alternative spring break.”  He was so busy ensuring the night ran smoothly. “I havent stopped sweating, this is my exercise,” exclaimed Henderson.

It was 8 pm and the the dining hall had cleared out.  The participants and their advisers gathered to reflect on the evening and discuss what they had learned.  This was a personal moment so I let them have their privacy.

Truly an eye opening venture for anyone who had misjudged a homeless person or a teenager.  Molly Checksfield, a group leader, put it best when she said, “if people take the time to think about others, then amazing things can happen.”

meatloaf moment of silence married couple kids connect four   food cupcakes decorating cupcakes rich henderson servin ice tea UNO chopped veggies chopped veggies close church

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