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Thursday, June 16, 2011

Oyster-Adams poet-athletes provide for DC's homeless while gaining respect for them

This spring, DC SCORES’ Lee Goldstein was a writing coach at Oyster-Adams Middle School and observed and lent guidance as the Oyster poet-athletes came up with the idea for and then completed a service-learning project to spread awareness about homelessness and provide supplies for the homeless in Washington, DC. 

By Lee Goldstein

In mid-May, Eric Sheptock, who is homeless but also a strong advocate for the homeless in the community and online — find him on Facebook, Twitter, his blog and a website! — spoke to the students (see the blog post) about the issue. At the end of the season, the poet-athletes took his lessons to the streets:

On a hot and steamy spring day, Oyster’s DC SCORES team headed downtown to Street Sense, a newspaper written and sold by DC’s homeless that serves as an educational resource on the issue as well as a medium of expression for poetry and editorials. The students had used Street Sense as a resource to conduct some of their research throughout the semester and were excited to participate in the “Vendor for a Day Program.”

One of the vendors, Martin, took the students out to Farragut Square to sell papers and raise money that would help support his son. It was sweltering outside, but that didn’t stop the DC SCORES team from spending close to two hours walking from street corner to street corner, asking businessmen and lawyers alike to make a $1 donation in exchange for a newspaper.

The day started out slow and the students found themselves discouraged at first, as many potential patrons walked on by to their next destination. The students began to understand how difficult it is to keep trying while being constantly being turned down.

But the students showed resiliency and kept at it, finally breaking through as donations started flowing in. As one student reflected:

“At first, I was shy and didn’t want to ask people anything, but then I got over it. We went from corner to corner trying to get people to buy the newspapers, and it was annoying and hot. I got frustrated because most people said no while I was asking the questions. I still didn’t give up but I felt like I wanted to. That all changed when I felt the increasing money in my pocket, ready to be given to Martin to make his troubles slightly easier. So in the end, it all paid off.”

When all was said and done, the DC SCORES team raised $100 for Martin, and returned to Street Sense headquarters very much excited by how they were able to help. After a debriefing with Street Sense staff, the students were off to their next destination for the day.

The Christ House homeless shelter, which provides comprehensive medical care and rehabilitation services for homeless men.

After picking up supplies from school for the shelter — consisting of toiletries, cards and well-wishes — the students delivered care packages to the Christ House and spent the afternoon playing games with some of the men at the shelter. As their time together wound down, students did not want to leave, and as they said their goodbyes, they invited some of the men to check out Oyster’s soccer games.

All in all, both groups enjoyed each other’s company, and the students came away putting faces to a place that they had so often walked by in their neighborhood without knowing who lived there. The students were glad they could show their support to the Chris House residents.

“I do feel like I made a difference, because with the care packages and fortunes we wrote, I know that that will make them feel comfortable with whether they’re homeless or not, and the care packages will show them that we love them and care for them,” one student said.

The students returned to school with stories to tell and experiences to share:

“I feel like I made a difference because before I felt like nobody knew about the homeless and their real stories and the ways they could help. But now, not only do we know and have been educated about the homeless, but others have too,” said one poet-athlete.

As the name suggests, this Leadership in Action service-learning experience entailed transforming our views on homelessness, as each student took away a new perspective on the issue.

“I learned that homeless people aren’t who people think they are,” one student said. “Other people think they’re drunk and have nothing better to do in their life. But really, they’re just people who have been through tough times and accidents.”

In their reflections, the students all agreed they have learned some valuable lessons that can be shared with their peers. They gained a new sense of understanding about the challenges facing the homeless, realizing that some people may be just down on their luck.

The Oyster-Adams DC SCORES team would like everyone to know that we can all do our part to help, and it starts by simply opening our minds and hearts and changing our perspective. So the next time you pass a homeless person on the street, or a Street Sense vendor, think of what you may have learned from the DC SCORES team and greet them with a smile and a pleasant hello.

After all, as any Oyster poet-athlete will now tell you, the homeless are people just like us.

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