Social Work students take action against homelessness
Whether pitching and sleeping in cardboard tents on Memorial Plaza or donating class project proceeds to Westminster’s Cold Weather Shelter, McDaniel’s Social Work students make a difference long before they have their degrees.
Just before Thanksgiving, the Social Work Action Team and Phi Alpha honor society brought the Faces of Homelessness to the campus community by bringing three speakers who had actually experienced homelessness to campus, collecting coats, hats, gloves and other winter gear – and sleeping out in makeshift shelters in temperatures that hovered in the high 20s.
Many of the same students who brought awareness to homelessness donated proceeds from their class fund-raising project to the Cold Weather Shelter. At Homecoming and throughout the semester they sold T-shirts celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Social Work program at McDaniel, and their professor, Jim Kunz, had told them it was perfectly appropriate that they assign the funds to help defray the costs of Social Work seniors commuting to their field placements.
Instead, the class surprised Kunz by saying they wanted all of the money – about $700 – donated to the Cold Weather Shelter, where they all had volunteered during their junior year.
“I was really touched,” said Kunz. “They decided, even though I am sure they could really use the help with their field-placement expenses, to give it to other people with much greater need than their own.”
The class just felt that the donation was a perfect way to pay back into the community they are trying to help, according to Kaitlin Atkinson, a Social Work senior from Blue Ridge Summit, Pa., who co-organized the Faces of Homelessness event with classmate Cindy Reid of Brooklyn, N.Y.
McDaniel students bundled up against the weather as they prepare to sleep out in makeshift tents to bring attention to homelessness: Back row, Rachel Bridgeman, Hannah Friedemann, Stefanie Breindel, Shanice Hackley, Lauren Hawkins, Graeme Carey, Cindy Reid and front row, Elizabeth Maxman, Abby Richardson, Kaitlin Atkinson and BreAnna Strevig.
“I strive to combine the college campus life here at McDaniel – which can seem sheltered from the outside world – with the important issues of people who need aid,” says Atkinson. “I think it’s important to connect the two worlds while I am here at McDaniel, but these experiences, like the homelessness event, hopefully will help prepare me to take on these issues when I graduate.”
Atkinson was heartened by the success of the homelessness event. About 20 students stopped by to hang out at the mostly cardboard campsite, 14 helped make shelters and 11 decided to brave the freezing temperatures. That four actually made it through the night only underlined the severity of homelessness and need for awareness and action, Atkinson says.
“The decision to become a social worker is the best I’ve ever made,” she says. “I always have been a helper and wanted to ease people’s suffering, but I didn’t know until the end of my sophomore year the perfect area to do that is social work.”