New job redefines columnist’s view of poverty

By: Chris Zimmer – Columnist, Senior

I was in the slumps when the semester started. I felt like a bum since I’m not in class or working on-campus this semester. My per­sonal finance situation was OK, but I knew it wouldn’t last long. I applied for 20 jobs over the course of one week and played the waiting game. All were with respective firms in the area and in the realm of my field of studies. After three days of twiddling my thumbs and wondering if anyone even glanced at my application or resume, I received an email of interest from a place that wasn’t in my so-called “top five.” It was from the homeless shelter, locat­ed 0.7 miles away from my and my roommates’ apartment.

When I met with Bryan Fraley Wilson, the director of the St. Vincent de Paul Gateway Shelter for Women and Families, he told me they were desperate for help. I waited a week to see if any oth­er places were willing to hire me, but to no prevail. I wasn’t thrilled at the monetary compensation, but the experience thus far has been more rewarding than any paycheck I’ve received in my life. It truly opened my eyes to who the homeless and those living in poverty are:

“St. Vincent de Paul operates as a 24-hour emergency homeless shelter serving single women and families with children. Men with spouses and/or children are also housed in this facility along with their families. The shelter pro­vides three meals daily, clothing, personal care items, mail and message services, and access to case management who help our guests in finding appropriate housing to meet their individual/ family needs.” —St. Vincent de Paul website.

I had plenty of misconceptions regarding homelessness before my employment. While I had service experience at Target in high school, I never really inter­acted with those in poverty. I’ve learned the homeless are just or­dinary people who ran into bad luck or by their own will. Our residents come from all walks of life. Some are escaping domes­tic abuse and others are dealing with alcohol and drug addiction. Some lost their job and others are just behind on their financial payments. Some of the mentally ill have been forsaken by their families and others’ jail time has prevented them from integrat­ing back into society. Some were born into wealth and others into poverty.

My emotions reached a break­ing point the second day on the job. It came from witnessing three school buses picking up young, elementary students. While the drivers make sure these kids are the first to be picked up and the last to be dropped off, my heart just ached thinking of the stigma they must have at school. Vol­unteer tutors do help them with their homework in the evenings, but I just can’t imagine they’re ex­celling given their environment.

It doesn’t matter whether they just need a place to escape for the night or whether it’s a long-term stay: St. Vincent will help anyone regardless of their circumstance. Why? We’re not some govern­ment program giving welfare handout, but a body of people who want to alleviate those strug­gling in our community. It’s our shelter’s vision to improve “the lives of those in need—working to end poverty and homelessness one person at a time,” and it’s our mission by “growing in spiritu­ality and friendship, to provide Christ-inspired person-to-person support in an empowering effort to improve the lives of those in personal, spiritual, or material need.”

I encourage my fellow UD students to step up and volun­teer at the shelter if you haven’t had the chance already. Scientif­ic research points to a plethora of benefits. The Corporation for National and Community Service established a strong relationship between community service and health. They say, “Those who volunteer have lower mortality rates, greater functional ability, and lower rates of depression lat­er in life than those who do not volunteer.” We hear the debates of millionaire and six-figure politicians on homelessness and poverty, but they’re painting a bad picture. The experience will open your eyes. Step up and see for yourself.

If you’re interested in volunteering, visit stvincentdayton.org/get-involved. You can support us by donating toi­letries, clothes, blankets, pillows and food. We would also love to have a huge UD attendance in our annual Sock It To Poverty! 5K on April 23 and in the Gene Westendorf Golf Tournament July 22. The shelter is located in Day­ton at 124 W. Apple St.