by Samantha Stark
The number of homeless children in the United States has grown to an all-time high. 1 in every 30 children is experiencing homelessness, according to a comprehensive state-by-state report by the National Center on Family Homelessness.
“Poverty isn’t something that strikes a particular type of demographic. It can impact someone from a two-day-old baby to the elderly,” said Hannah Severtson, director of MSUM’s learning communities.
As National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week and International Education Week come to an end, MSUM’s learning communities, Dragon mentors and other MSUM departments are teaming up to host the Dragon Days of Action Nov. 20 – 21.
Exploration Dragon Mentor Ashley Tuttle, Severtson and Kathryn Olson, a learning communities graduate assistant, collaborated in their desires to make a difference in the F-M community. They created a two-day event like nothing the learning communities and Dragon mentors have organized before.
“This event has definitely been a dream of mine for a while,” Tuttle said. “The fact that we really made this come to life is a win, in and of, itself.”
A change grown from passion
In years past, learning communities have hosted one-day community service events that have only been open to those in the communities.
“In previous years, I would have students that aren’t part of learning communities ask to participate in the community service, and I always allowed it anyways,” Severtson said. “So (we) thought this year we would open the event up to all students and anyone that wants to participate and volunteer — not just students in the learning communities.”
Olson said the event will impact students beyond providing awareness of hunger and homelessness, but also by forming a solid bond between the MSUM and F-M communities through volunteerism.
An international influence
Dragon Days of Action features numerous activities designed to serve the F-M community and create awareness for hunger and homelessness around the world. The Office of Diversity and Inclusion, International Student Services, First Year Programs, Dragons AfterDark, and the offices of Student Activities and Community Outreach sponsor particular activities and collaborate in planning the festivities.
“The Office of International Student Activities organized the service projects, and the Office of Diversity and Inclusion set up the Oxfam America Hunger Banquet that wraps up the entire event,” Olson said. “And since International Ed Week ends on Friday, we had the Office of International Student Services and international students incorporate international speakers and even Korean drummers into the event.”
Severtson said the involvement of several departments creates a broader awareness of issues relating to hunger and homelessness.
“We are having speakers on global and local hunger and homelessness, which will hopefully show people that these really are issues we are facing every day,” Tuttle said.
A first-hand experience
During the event, students are asked to participate in a 24-hour fasting (unless not medically safe), sleeping in cardboard boxes overnight in the campus mall or the back gym of Nemzek, community service with peers and an Oxfam America Hunger Banquet. Additionally, the organizers will be conducting a food drive throughout the two-days.
“This event will have such a large impact because students are actually living it by doing the fasting and sleeping in cardboard boxes,” Tuttle said. “It’s easy to drive by someone who’s out on the street and feel bad, but you don’t really know until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.”
“It’s difficult to even drive around without seeing someone who is in need,” she said. “Many student and staff members aren’t really sure of what they can do to help or they don’t have the time.”
Tuttle believes the event will provide students and staff with an easy and enthusing method of volunteering in the F-M community.
“It brings a new perspective to the issue of hunger and homelessness,” she said.
“Anytime you can have a young person go out into the community to make a difference, that gives you a sense of purpose,” Severtson said. “I’m hoping that all the students that participate in any of our activities feel inspired to go out and make a difference, or even return home with some knowledge that they may have not known prior to the event.”
For more information, visit the learning community offices in the Academic Support Center. To participate in any of the events, students can sign up in advance at tinyurl.com/pxphvtr or register in person at the opening events Nov. 20.
“(Dragon Days of Action) means a great deal to me,” Tuttle said. “Myself and many other people have put in many hours and a lot of hard work into this event. We all share the belief that this is an important topic that needs to be noticed.”