Mar 03, 2017
As students put together Spring Break plans, leaders of the Youth Education Services (YES) homeless outreach program are putting together the final preparations for a weeklong service project in Sacramento.
STEP UPP (Serve Travel Encourage Progress for Underrepresented People in Poverty), is one of the many volunteer programs that connects HSU students with the local community through YES. Those students support local homeless people during the school year; last fall, participants packed food boxes with the Salvation Army and ran a neighborhood food drive in cooperation with Food for People.
In Spring ‘16, Belen Gutierrez Flores (Criminology & Justice Studies) went to San Francisco as a volunteer with the group, an experience she says was at first shocking but ultimately valuable. The 15 or so students slept on the floor of a church – simulating the hard ground on which many homeless people spend their nights – waking to spend the day at a variety of community service programs. They prepared food, played bingo with victims of domestic violence, and sang “Happy Birthday” to a man who hadn’t had his birthday recognized in years, she says. It brought tears to his eyes.
“It was a rewarding experience,” she says. “I don’t need to be thanked, but making people feel good about themselves is why I do this; to make them feel like there are people who care.”
This year, Gutierrez Flores is one of several student organizers, along with Sofia Tam and Santa Hererra, who are each taking on a new level of responsibility and gaining a considerable amount of experience fundraising, planning, and managing the volunteers during the Spring Break trip. The group will spend a week working with the Sacramento Food Bank and other organizations working with people in poverty, as well as meet with guest speakers who are experts on homelessness and poverty in the area.
For Gutierrez Flores, traveling out of the area is a culminating moment of the yearlong volunteering – it builds excitement among the students, provides a bonding experience, and gives volunteers a taste of the many ways that different organizations tackle the same issue. That variety gives them a chance to explore their own strengths and provides a path to continued volunteering, as well as careers.