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Homelessness at 111°

August 16, 2006

SELINSGROVE, (Pa.) – As the heat index soared to 111°F the week of July 31, 19 first-year students, five upper-class mentors and three staff members from Susquehanna University spent a week working with homeless people and studying the causes of homelessness in America. The second annual Summer SPLASH (Students Promoting Leadership and Awareness through Service with the Homeless), previously called Summer Plunge, included work projects at Haven Ministry, a homeless shelter in Sunbury, Pa., as well as several sites in Washington, D.C.

In the nation’s capital, participants volunteered at the 1,350-bed Community for Creative Non-Violence, the largest homeless shelter in America. Walking several miles each day in the extreme heat sensitized participants to the rigors of life on the streets, not only in cold winter months but also in dangerously hot weather.

“SPLASH is a great way for incoming students to launch their SU careers. They benefit in at least three significant ways: they develop new relationships with a few classmates, upper class students, faculty and staff; they have meaningful encounters and conversations with some of God’s children whose experiences differ greatly from theirs; and they commence the practice of serving to learn and learning to serve that is a core part of a liberal arts education in the 21st century,” says university chaplain Mark Wm. Radecke, coordinator of the program.

Because it is a service-learning event combining volunteer projects with academic learning and reflection, students kept a daily journal, read articles related to homelessness, participated in daily reflection sessions led by the upper class mentors, and attended a presentation on homelessness by David Ramsaran, associate professor of sociology at Susquehanna University.

While in Washington, participants visited Meredith Lovell, a 2002 graduate of Susquehanna now serving as associate pastor of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, and a formerly homeless resident of the church’s five-bed shelter to learn more about the congregation’s ministry with homeless men. They also visited the offices of the Lutheran Volunteer Corps and toured the N Street Village, a service and advocacy agency assisting homeless and low-income women.

At the offices of the National Coalition for the Homeless, the group heard two men describe their experiences living on the streets. The trip concluded with a service activity called “Bread for the Journey.” The effort required the Summer SPLASH teams to prepare 100 bagged lunches and distribute them to homeless people who spend their days in neighborhood parks. “These encounters often resulted in conversations between participants and those they met. One group of recipients even asked the students to join hands with them and share in a prayer before the meal,” Radecke says.

The program wasn’t all work, though. The group also enjoyed a visit to the National Zoo and an evening swim at the Selinsgrove Swimming Pool.

Susquehanna’s Summer SPLASH is one of eight service-learning initiatives funded in part by a two-year grant from Thrivent Financial for Lutherans.

Contact: Victoria Kidd


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