by Karin De Angelis
Learning happens best when it occurs outside the classroom. That is the feedback from 46 cadets who visited the Marian House on Sept. 7 for an all-day educational and service event.
The trip was part of a sociology course, Class, Race, and Ethnicity in Society, that is part of the Behavioral Sciences and Leadership curriculum at the United States Air Force Academy. The class is taught by Dr. Karin De Angelis, an associate professor in the department. In the course, cadets study how social class shapes society, individual life chances, and daily social interactions in meaningful ways.
Prior to the field trip the cadets studied those living at or below the poverty threshold and focused on issues like finding and keeping work, housing instability, the role of welfare programs, and the creative ways people make money. They read the book, $2.00 a Day, in preparation for the trip. They also wrote reflection papers prior to the trip where they answered questions like:
- Describe what you believe to be true about individuals who are experiencing homelessness. How have you developed these beliefs?
- What are your thoughts regarding the upcoming visit to the Marian House? About what are you most hesitant? About what are you most excited? Explain. Students revisited these questions after the trip. We share some of their responses below. But first, let’s discuss the amazing day the cadets had.
Thanks to the generous efforts of Douglas Rouse, Catholic Charities Volunteer Coordinator, the cadets started the day by hearing from experts in the field including Kristen Bailey (Homes for all Veterans, part of Rocky Mountain Human Services), Sherry Stulpin from the Life Skills office of Catholic Charites and Dana Avey. Dana is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in private practice and a Centura Health Crisis Assessment Specialist, who volunteers for Catholic Charities’ HEART(Homeless Engagement And Outreach Team). HEART is a street outreach program. The HEART team builds relationships, raises awareness of services available in the community, and connects at risk people to the appropriate programs.
The cadets then divided into small teams and got to work on specific service projects. One team stayed upstairs with the kitchen crew. Some served food, others cleared tables or washed dishes.
Others worked on beautification and maintenance projects outside.
The third group headed downstairs to the clothing and supply area. One small team reorganized the baby supplies while another team transitioned the summer clothes to fall ones. At lunchtime, the cadets stopped their projects and enjoyed lunch in the Marian House dining hall. It was at this time that they were also able to interact with others there for a warm, healthy meal. All cadets saw this time as the most impactful part of the trip.
After the trip, cadets revisited their reflection questions. Here are a few representative takeaways:
“A key learning component for me was finding out just how much I actually have in common with those who attend the soup kitchen regularly. A lot of them are from areas similar to my hometown went to school beyond high school, have grad school degrees etc. This made me realize that you can still do what you can to better your chances at being wealthy and still fall short, and sometimes it could be as a result of something that has nothing to do with your actions.”
“I had a homeless man come up to me and thank me for my service in the military and helping out with the event. He used to be a fireman and appeared to be injured, but he was extremely proud to serve. This is a valuable experience because sometimes people forget that homeless individuals are people too. Most of them have their own unique story, and a lot of them go unnoticed in the eyes of society.”
“The personal narratives that I heard are something that I could read in a book. However, something about having a person tell you their personal story makes a narrative more powerful. This experience has also given me a more positive outlook on both the homeless and the less fortunate. I can definitely say that while I am no more likely to give someone on the street money, I am more likely to stop and say hi because I saw firsthand what a hello and a handshake can do for someone.”
“I did not realize how many homeless people that are trying to survive just in Colorado Springs. We served roughly 656 homeless people, which blew my mind especially because it did not seem like that many.”
“What surprised me the most about my interactions with visitors at the Marian House is that not all of them were experiencing homelessness. It amazed me that there are such vast ranges of poverty that even those who have homes and jobs are still struggling to feed themselves efficiently. If I visit again, I would like to keep this idea in mind to help abolish any pre-determined stereotypes I have subconsciously developed. I would like to remember that despite the attitudes of society, those who visit Marian House are not untouchable or dangerous, many of them abide to “normal” social standards.”
Not only does a field trip like this, expose cadets to course concepts, but, as demonstrated by their reflections, it also increases their respect for human dignity and compassion for others. We are so appreciative to all those at the Marian House who worked to make this trip happen. We look forward to making it an annual event.