Learning and Creating

It is far too easy to forget about pressing issues when one is living one’s day-to-day life – a life filled with activities, friends, meetings, classes, and the like.  The good that one had done weeks prior may simply be a faded image in the distance.  But what about the lessons that had been learned and the realization that a change needed to be made?

Continuing to meet with the group and planning reorientation projects is essential in truly learning and turning those realizations into actions.  I learned that education is necessary, consideration is always needed, and listening is one of the most important aspects of productive action.   I learned that people make mistakes, but more importantly, people grow from them too.  I learned that just because a man doesn’t have a roof over his head, he is not less of a human being.  I learned that just because a woman depends on getting her meals from the back of a van or the basement of an old church doesn’t mean her life is any less important.  I learned these things.  But I don’t want these messages to fade and become less meaningful.  I learned these things.  But it’s time for others to learn them too.

Back to Reality

I miss D.C. immensely. I miss the group of friends I spent the week with, the kids we worked with day to day, the city skyline at night, getting lost in the vans, and having lengthy, late night discussions that made me feel like change was necessary, and very, very possible. The only thing I don’t miss from that week is probably having to shower in a box.

I had wondered before I left for the trip how this trip might compare with the mission trips to El Salvador I have taken in the past five years. What was different was not so much even the trip itself, but the way others received my experience upon my return home. When I told people that I went on an ASB trip to Washington, D.C. to learn about and combat hunger and homelessness, the only thing they asked me was, “How was it?” This question was not what I expected. When I came back from El Salvador, not only did I get that question, but I got, “What did you do there?”

The reason this is so significant I think is not because I went to a different country, but because I think people think that they already know a lot about hunger and homelessness issues. This is what I thought, too, before I went on the trip. To me, this is really awful. I learned so much from being in D.C., and while before I had thought that maybe the needs of those in other countries are probably more because they didn’t have as sturdy a government as we do, now I think that maybe domestic issues are just as important to address. Some parts of our work in Washington hit a little too close to home for me, and had I not been on the trip I would not have learned of all the ways that I can be a better member of my society. It also propelled me to want to educate others on this issue in a big way. I’m hoping our reorientation project will do just that.

Monday’s Experience with Gary

This post recaps the experience that me, Leah and Taimmor had during the Urban Plunge. The Urban Plunge was meant to simulate being homeless and force us to think like a homeless person in D.C. For me the Urban Plunge was the best experience on the trip and had a profound impact on me. The experience started out with each member of our group getting 2 dollars to spend on whatever we want. We were also given a metro pass so that we could use the busses to travel around the city. We had certain objectives to accomplish on the experience such as traveling to a certain location, eating dinner with a homeless person and finding out exactly how to live like a homeless person.

We were sent to Franklin Square to start our quest. We got on the metro pretty easily and made our way to the Square. We then turned our objective to then finding a person in the square to share a meal with. We walked around the square and park trying to find a person who looked in need. We found many people there. The whole park was filled with homeless people who looked in need. We felt very awkward as a group just approaching one of them and asking them if they wanted dinner. As a group we decided that it would be best to go into McDonalds and buy the food first. We could then take the food out to a person and need and share a meal. While we were sitting in McDonalds a tall man about 6’6″ approached me casually and said, “nice weather we are having”. I politely responded and in no time all 4 of us were chatting away with him.

His name was Gary Wolf. He was a 49 year old homeless man from California. He had come to D.C. to play basketball for American University. He had dropped out of school and turned to drug abuse. After a while and a series of poor decisions Gary eventually found himself as a homeless man in D.C. For the last 30 years he has been living on the streets. Gary was kind, intelligent and excited to be able to share his story with us. He was not at all embarrassed by his situation and was not shy about talking about his past.

To me Gary had some very interesting ideas about homelessness itself in D.C. He told us about how it was great that we were coming down to help out in all the soup kitchens and homeless shelters, but there was a down side. Church groups and volunteers make it possible for me to remain homeless. Because there were so many groups willing to feed and provide a home for the homeless it allowed him to stay lazy and take no responsibilities. Listening to his stories and his opinion I would have to say that Gary was not happy, but was more content with his life. He had regrets about his past, but was living his life the way he wanted to.

After we had spend a fair amount of time discussion Gary’s life we then walked around D.C. with Gary for a little. He introduced us to Bobblehead who was a homeless women who lived under the cover of a bus stop. She was very humorous and we joked around with her for a while about life in D.C. Our last stop was Occupy D.C. Gary had a couple of friends who were staying at tents at the occupy movement. It was there we finally said goodbye to Gary. He was going to go check himself into a Hospital for a couple of days so he could rest up. We wished him farewell and good luck and that was that.

Our experience with Gary was life changing. Instead of having all the preconceived notions of homelessness I got to spend the day actually getting to realize what it is like to be homeless. Gary put a face to something I knew little about and completely changed my mind about how I view homelessness.


Yesterday was Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service in which we spent the morning portion of our day canvassing DC neighborhoods informing families and individuals about the importance of fire safety and the free services available from the fire department. While this was important for the communities, I found the afternoon to be much more intriguing.

A year ago today I was doing a similar service trip in Camden, New Jersey, in which i met a homeless man who changed my life. His name was Mister Eddie Marshall. When I first met Eddie, we spoke for the whole day. I learned he had a masters degree in Psychology, served in the army, and discussed with him about religion, politics, education, and life in general. After this great experience however, upon my arrival to the shelter the next day, Eddie was intoxicated and acted in a completely different manner. It upset me to speak with him again, this time interacting with a seemingly different individual, speaking nonsense and dozing in and out of sleep. I think what most upset me was to witness this sad sight in a man with so much potential and so many things to offer.

Our afternoon in DC was the “urban plunge” asking us to see what it was like to be homeless, and to interact with others within the homeless community. While my group was not fortunate enough to hear the story of any particular individual we encountered, our team discussion was enlightening. The other groups all had greatly different experiences from each other. Each encountered different sorts of people, and had conversations about different aspects of homeless life. While this discussion was going on, I was reminded of my encounter with Eddie a year ago. Hearing these other stories gave reminded me once gain that not all homeless people are alike, each having their own backgrounds and current situations. It gave me hope to remember that there is possibility in everyone to fulfill their maximum potential and make life better for themselves and maybe, if they are fortunate enough, for others as well.

Kitchen to Kids

We began the morning preparing meals for the homeless in the DC Central Kitchen.  Soup was made in large vats and would later be distributed to areas throughout the city, while “Student Cooks,” adult members of the community who intern at the kitchen to learn specific cooking skills for jobs later in life, prepared meals for the workers and volunteers in the kitchen.

Most of us spoke with other volunteers who had stories similar to our own – college students looking to give their time and effort to a worthy cause.  However, such individuals were not the only groups of people present.  Kind enough to share their stories, we found ourselves also speaking to members of the community – from dishwashers, to student cooks, to cooks employed by DC Central Kitchen.  Matt later shared that he casually discussed football while working alongside a man who volunteered bits of his experience.  One memorable comment was that this man truly loved his job.

Kait and Maggie also shared their conversation with one of the cooks.  This particular man had become involved in illegal activities at a younger age and later found himself in jail.  With a young daughter, he found the courage to improve his lifestyle so that he could be a better role model for his daughter and provide her with the care and affection she deserved.  He’s held his job as a cook for quite a few years now and has reasonable yet high expectations for his daughter.  He admitted to being somewhat of a health nut and was generous in supplying compliments to the girls for their accomplishment of being in college and doing well for themselves.

When it was finally time to eat the prepared lunch, all the volunteers and workers sat down together and simply talked.  I spoke with one man who had been in the Army years earlier, traveled a lot, and later discovered a passion for cooking.  Thanks to DC Central Kitchen, he is able to receive the necessary training and preparation in order to find a job in the real world.  He spoke of his hopes, such as becoming a cook for the kitchen or getting an internship at the Marriott Hotel after he had finished his training.

The meal ended and we left, only to move on to our next adventure.  ROJA is an after school program for children that focusses on anything from snack time, to homework help, to playtime.  Each of us worked with one other student in the program.  We were surprised to discover how well behaved the children were and agreed on the overall importance of discipline and respect.  Personally, it was refreshing to see children who could follow directions, accomplish tasks, and work with others without unnecessary melodrama.

Working with young children, who can be so terribly impressionable, always makes me wonder about how I’m influencing them – or even if I’m influencing them at all.  It’s difficult to judge the significance of what one is doing when it is so short-term, nonetheless, the only true failure would be not trying at all.



For the evening, we had one simple task. Having been assigned a specified square in D.C., we were supposed to discover for ourselves the faces and challenges of being homeless for one very chilly evening. To do this we were given only a few supplies: a bus ticket, two dollars each, a map of our area, and the instructions to have a meal with someone and a conversation about homelessness in the city, and somehow get them a pair of socks. With the correct attitude, this seemed easy enough to my group. What we learned in the process of our endeavors is hopefully something that will stick with us for the rest of our lives.

We started out with an idea. We needed to earn more money somehow. While contemplating our options, we scoped out Dupont Circle to see what was around to eat and who our dinner guest might be. After determining that we had pretty limited options in dining on six dollars, we figured talking to some people about the issues at hand might help us out. We spoke with a woman representing a newspaper about homelessness, and she explained to us that the shelters present in the Dupont Circle area were dirty, the food was not good, and the people weren’t really treated like people. Devastated to hear about her one bad experience, we left feeling a little more sorry for the people we were supposed to be servicing during the evening. Quickly, however, this notion was reversed by an old man who had approached us the next block up. He told us that many of the panhandlers on the streets were faking homelessness, and that in reality pretending was just an easy way for them to get money. We thanked him for his insight, he gave us his blessing, and we were on our way, bitterly conflicted that we may wind up helping the wrong person.

Still, our main concern was being able to afford food to share with the right person, and so our hunt for more spending money ensued. After receiving a free pair of socks from a very kind man who was selling them on the street, and buying a newspaper for a dollar from the first woman we spoke to, we had five dollars to our name, which was not very promising for a meal for four.  Kait and I got our courage up to approach two generous young boys on the sidewalk. We explained to them our issue, and with a little haggling they forfeited another six dollars. Boy, were we lucky that people were so kind! We had doubled our budget!

As there were no McDonalds and no real grocery stores in the area, we settled for what we thought would be the best bet for getting a good hot meal for under $11: Subway. Two $5 foot long hot meatball subs cut into two pieces each gave us four sandwiches, and with tax, it had cost us exactly $11! The prior coincidences in the day led us to believe that everything had to have happened to us exactly this way for a reason.

So, here we were, completely ready to start our mission, when we walk out of Subway and find that we cannot find any one in need of our meal. After much searching, we finally came to a man sleeping on the steps of a bank, and offered him our sandwich. He was grateful, but declined our request to sit down to eat with him. I was a little disappointed, but figured it was okay since we were the ones who had woken him up from sleeping.

Still, the whole bus ride back to our meeting place I had contemplated what had happened in the past couple of hours. At first, I thought we had failed. Then, upon further thought, I realized that the actual meal part if the trip was not the task, but a tool. Sure, we hadn’t exactly had a conversation with the man sleeping at the bank, but in order to offer him a sandwich, we had encountered several different people who had taught us more about homelessness in D.C., exactly what we were meant to do in the first place. We did not have the satisfaction watching the man eat, but instead we learned a lot about life. The newspaper woman taught us that people are people, and no matter what happens to them in life, they should be treated as such. The man who stopped us on the corner explained that things may not always be as they seem to be. This, I know, can go both ways. Someone who may not seem to be struggling could be bearing an enormous pain inside; then again, those how seem to be in need may be getting along just fine. Finally, the two boys and the street vendor showed that human kindness can go a long way. Many people are willing to give of themselves when asked, with no prior knowledge of a situation or the people in them.

At first I had thought that when I heard about the other group’s experiences, I might be a little jealous that they got more out of their day than we did. Thinking about all that I had discovered, though, I knew my group’s experience was perfect. The guy on the street corner had given us his blessing, and I knew it had carried through during our entire journey. Whatever it was that was keeping an eye on us at Dupont Circle today had helped us achieve our goal, and forced us to really understand the more about ourselves and our lives.

Afternoon delivery

Miles from the aftermath, we spilled our guts to each other. Tales from the hours prior. Lacking rhythm and rhyme we expressed a plunge into the concrete jungle beneath. My heart pounds faster, stomach grows sicker. 8 o’clock. 9 o’clock. The stories continue in an outpour of unsettling perspective. My turn approaches, it was inevitable. 5 minutes. 10 minutes. A deep breath. Begin.

“Whole wheat bread, please.”

The day begins. Chinatown is an interesting set point, if only it appeared on the map our eyes scanned. Moments later… finally! Just blocks away. We walked in a hurried fashion, as if the cold would treat us with more compassion if we agreed to travel in haste. The clock ticks, the restless Sun refuses to wait. We had a mission, a goal. Something bigger than ourselves, bigger than any of us… or so we thought.

“Lettuce, tomato, the works. Just no peppers, the wind burns enough as it is.”

Spare change is a unique subject. As if any human in their right mind consciously separates the contents of their pockets, labeling the “undesirable” metal as “spares.” As we traveled deeper and deeper into the heart of this “town,” we saw more and more people who could use these “spares” more than any of us could. The clock ticks, the restless Sun refuses to wait.

“And a water, please, he would appreciate that, I’m sure.”

We reached our conclusion. Our goal was to feed a man, any man. 6 dollars isn’t a lot of money, but that’s okay. We were in college, we were used to “long periods of financial instability,” if you could call it that. Come to think of it, these periods seemed to last a long time for myself, but anyway…

Excuse me,” she spoke softly, nudging the man’s shoulder. Disrupting the sleep of a perfect stranger is a delicate act, especially when the sleeper is in the middle of the sidewalk on a busy city street.

No response. The man was a depressing site himself. His long bushy gray beard took the backseat as a distinctive feature, second only to his eyes.  They were brown, sunk into his calloused face, half closed, yet conscious.

Excuse me, sir.” She begins again, wondering if this was such a good idea after all. The man looks to us, surprised as expected, yet subdued as if she was just another talking face.

The clock ticks, the restless Sun refuses to wait.

Yes?” the man gestures as would I if someone had awoken me from an afternoon nap. “We brought you some food,” she replied in a sweet voice as I handed the man a bag with a sandwich and water.”God Bless You,” the man said as he seemingly went in and out of awareness, “I’ll eat it when I stand up.

And that’s how it was. As if longing for something more, something outstanding, lasting, we parted ways. Back to the concrete, into the spiritual mouth of the lion, we were led, with knives cutting through our stomachs, and our throats at our knees. I kept looking back as I walked, hoping I would be able to see him stand up and take a bite. Just one bite. Just so I could see the tension in his eyes settle, and the tension in my mind depress. Nothing changed after that. We felt weaker than ever, as if a 5 dollar sandwich, became bite size. It is something we carried with us, however. Something we won’t forget.  At that moment we became more mature.  20 was no longer just a number for me.  We were the strangers here, we were strange. And the only thing that could change that is…

The clock stops, the restless pain refuses to wait.

The First Half Day in Washington D.C.

After a few obstacles, we made it to Washington D.C. to kick off our service trip. The focus will be on exploring and addressing various facets of the less fortunate communities in our nation’s Capital.

We were warmly greeted by our temporary trip leader Robyn, who brought us together and explained to us our responsibilities and expectations for this trip. After this, we embarked on a journey to take a tour of the city and have a great dinner at a Middle Eastern restaurant.

The food was exceptional, and we then departed on a comprehensive tour of the city that included the extravagant Capitol Building and Washington Monument, as well as the south-eastern part of D.C., which is one of the most neglected parts of the city. It was shocking to see these different worlds juxtaposed against one another, especially when Robyn detailed the vicious cycle of poverty and crime the residents of the south-east have to face every day due to the negligence of corporations and government entities. It was humbling to hear of some few heroes’ efforts to alleviate the hight poverty lifestyles of people in the city. It is clear, however, that more work needs to be done to improve the lives of many thousands of D.C. residents.

To end the night, Robyn took us to a beautiful field which overlooked the entire city of Washington, D.C. and parts of Virginia. In the distance we could see the Washington Monument, the Jefferson Memorial, and the Capitol building. In an effort to get a better view, we moved closer to the edge of the field. But trees loomed ahead, obstructing or view, and we were forced to move back again and take in the city as a whole.

And that’s when I realized that this was a metaphor for Washington as a whole. When you look at small snippets of the city, the beautiful monuments and overpriced apartments, you only appreciate a narrow part of it. To truly appreciate Washington, you need to step back and look at it as a whole, regardless of the poverty and strife you may encounter.


Senior year of high school we were required to take part in “The Homelessness Project,” an event where we built ourselves cardboard boxes in which we had to sleep on our quad in the middle of November.  Actual homeless people were brought to my school to fill the night with their stories of loss. Though the event was meant to raise money and awareness, talking to the individuals on a personal level is what I believe had the greatest impact on all of us- well, besides spending a night outside, too cold to sleep.  Everyone has a story, a path they took to get where he or she currently stand in life.  Sharing those stories with one another is the best way to change one’s path for the better.  The problem of hunger and homelessness is a giant issue in our country that needs to be addressed, and while I am looking forward to figuring out a way to help battle this problem, I am more interested in getting to know people’s stories and break down stereotypes.  I learn more and more every single day of my life that people are so much more alike than we would like to let ourselves believe.  My hope is that on this trip our group is able to share life experiences with each other and the people with whom we work every day that create amazing bonds. My worry is that I let stereotyping get the better of me- even though I try not to make snap judgments, it happens many times.  No matter what, I am confident that this will be yet another experience of mine that helps to make a difference in the lives of others as well as my own.

The last time I have been to Washington, D.C. was five years ago, on a two day long class field trip- the most long-awaited trip of me and my peers’ young adult lives. From what I remember about the trip, I had an amazing time. This was probably because while our main objective of the trip was to learn something about our nation’s capital and see its various monuments and museums, I was more concerned with what I was going to wear to the party cruise we were going to take on the first night, or who made out with who on the bus to the Lincoln Memorial. Back then I had romantic views about the city, views that haven’t exactly changed since then. I have worked with hunger and homelessness in El Salvador for the past four years; I think the shock of seeing the conditions some people are forced to live in has worn off. Still, though, I think that in my home country, with people who are very much more like me than many of the people of El Salvador, seeing hunger and homelessness this way will be a pretty big shock to my system. I’m hoping to learn a lot from this trip, and I have positive high expectations for my experiences in the coming week. I’m definitely a little nervous, especially because I will be the only first year in our group, but I am really looking forward to getting to know everyone and having a lot of fun! So, tonight I am throwing my nerves out the window and saying, “Bring it on, D.C.!” I can’t wait to see what this week holds for me.