Sunday, March 30, 2014

Now What?

Hello all,

I was meaning to post my blog on Saturday, March 29. Just to reflect upon some of the things that happened during the week. But had a very difficult time with the realization that our trip ended yesterday morning, but I must say that our journey isn't completely over. This is only the beginning of a new movement, an entire generation of youth who have the power to bring attention to issues that we believe could end in our lifetime.

This year, I applied to take the role of a student leader that leads the Washington, D.C. catalyst trip. I was a bit hesitant, due to the fact that I was still learning about many of the issues that cause homelessness. But I realized that I had previously learned so much, as I was once a student attending my first catalyst trip during my freshman year in college. I was more than willing to continue learning, along with the students that applied this year to be a part of this trip. I must say that I' am very proud of each and every participant, as my co-leader and I put 100% of our time, commitment, and heart into making this trip a success, and I couldn’t have asked for a better group of individuals.

People experiencing homelessness have long been stigmatized and blamed by their situation. When I was younger, I used to think that homelessness was a "choice," but this week only reaffirmed me that homelessness’ is not a "choice," it has only confirmed to me that it’s an issue caused by many of our institutions, and circumstances as these institutions do not allow people who are living in impoverished conditions break free of that cycle that holds them captive.

During the 48 hour homeless challenge, I came across a missing person poster. It was a young girl, 8 years old. Once we returned to the hostel, I was reading news reports and came across the same picture of the young girl who had been missing for the past few days, and that’s when it hit me. The little 8 year old girl who was missing, was experiencing homelessness. I was frustrated, and angry that I didn’t have the power to end homelessness right there and then. We have a stereotypical image of people experiencing homelessness, but it can be invisible as it also affects many youth.

So what now? I say we continue to educate others about homelessness. We MUST continue to advocate for each and every person experiencing homelessness, as I believe my generation has more power than they can imagine. Support organizations that are more than willing to improve the conditions of people who are experiencing homelessnes, and those who have the goal of ending homelessness. Possibly start a movement, that not only gets the general public attention but of those in higher positions, that have the power to make policies to end homelessness.

I would like to thank Margot Howard, Coordinator of Social Justice Initiatives and the Hamline to Hamline Collaboration in the Wesley Center at Hamline. Margot, who was also our staff person on the trip is the reason why I continue to grow as a student leader, and want to be the change that I wish to see in the world. I couldn't have asked for a better mentor, as she was always supportive from beginning to end. Thank you for believing in me, and for putting all your dedication into making these catalyst trips possible.

In conclusion, I would like to thank my co-leader, Cristina. Cristina, co-leading this trip with you will always be something that I keep close to my heart. I honestly don't know if I could have made this trip a success had you not been a part of the entire process, you have taught me the many amazing qualities that it takes to be a WONDERFUL student leader. I couldn't have asked for a better friend to work with, as many challenges came my way, and you stood right by my side, and supported me. I am sad that you will be graduating from Hamline, as I won't get to see you around, but I know that wherever you decide to go, you will only continue to accomplish many great things. I am also excited to see where your passion and talents will take you. (:

Thanks to everyone who made this trip such an amazing experience. Margot, Cristina, Zoe, Law, Gordy, Patricia, Lauren, McKenzie, Erica, Rayla, Melissa, and Sandy. 


Friday, March 28, 2014

The End of an Era, the Beginning of a Movement

Hey all,

Cristina here. Well, here we are. The conclusory (co-) leader post of the week.

But this time it’s different. This time, I can’t write, “See you next year.” This time, I can’t write, “I’m excited to see where my Catalyst trip experiences will take me next year.”

This is it. This is the end. Or is it?

In this post, I’m going to reflect on: 1) the past week and our 2014 Washington, D.C. Catalyst trip, and 2) my past four years of Catalyst and my individual transformation.

This week, we served with A Wider Circle, DC Central Kitchen, So Others Might Eat, Bread for the City, Capital Area Food Bank, Martha’s Market, Georgetown Ministry Center, and Samaritan Ministry. We spoke with and heard from the United Nations Foundation and speakers from the National Coalition for the Homeless, and we completed the 48-Hour Homeless Challenge. We heard a lot, saw a lot, did a lot, and learned a lot.

Just to give you a little background, my co-leader and I have been planning and preparing for this trip since October/November. I’ve been so excited since we started planning the trip for the service that we would be doing and the student participants with whom I’d have the pleasure of spending time.

But I was also very nervous, especially in the weeks and days leading up to the trip. I was nervous that the Homeless Challenge wouldn’t work out, that the group wouldn’t bond or grow together, that our community partner experience would be horrible, etc. etc., I could seriously go on. But once we arrived in the city and started doing service work, my nerves were quickly put to rest. I was immediately reassured of the power of a Catalyst trip when the group started reflecting and discussing the issues surrounding homelessness that plague our society and the impact our service had on the greater community.

I am so proud of each and every participant on this trip, and I could not have asked for a better group of folks with whom to have spent the past week. I can’t even count the number of times that I have learned from someone on this trip, or the number of times someone on this trip has impressed me with the quality and depth of their reflection and critical analysis. I can’t even explain how much this group has shown me that homelessness is an issue that deserves attention and that, with the effort of many, can be solved. I can’t express enough how grateful and honored I am to have met and gotten to know everyone on this trip, and I am so happy to leave Hamline with this experience.

I wanted to say thank you to everyone on this year’s trip for this experience. You have all made it so great, and I am so fortunate to have spent this week with you. I love you all.

As some of you may know, I am a graduating senior, and this is my last semester at Hamline University. This is also the fourth time I’ve participated in the Washington, D.C. Catalyst trip. I was a trip participant my first and sophomore years, I was the student leader my junior year, and I am now a student co-leader this year.

I seriously can’t even accurately articulate how much Catalyst has done for my life, and how much Catalyst has impacted my growth as a student, leader, and advocate. To be honest, Catalyst trips haven’t changed my life, because I think I was meant for this track all along, but Catalyst has transformed and molded my life and has pointed me in a direction in which I am proud and extremely excited to go.

During my first semester at Hamline, someone told me about Catalyst and I applied haphazardly, honestly not realizing or intending the experience to turn into anything. I thought that service sounded like a pretty good way to spend my freshman spring break. But the experiences I had in D.C. that first spring break sparked something inside me. I was introduced to a world of issues I had never really given much thought to. I was angered by what I was told, but also motivated to learn more and do more. I have learned so much more (about both homelessness and social justice) on every Catalyst trip to D.C. since, and the spark that began on my first Catalyst trip is now a fervent fire.

My collective experiences on Catalyst trips have given me the opportunity to learn about meaningful and reflective service. Catalyst trips have allowed me to realize my passions and talents, and have moreover given me the tools to construct a plan with which I can combine my passions and talents and utilize them to enact change.

After graduating from Hamline, I intend on going to law school and becoming a public defender. Participating in Catalyst trips has allowed me to discover a way to combine my talent (the law) and my passion (homelessness and poverty); because of Catalyst, I have discovered a way to do what I love with a community with which I am very excited to work.

I have learned so much from my Catalyst experiences, about homelessness and social justice and social change, but also about how to be a better person, a more engaged community member overall. I have Catalyst to thank for so many life lessons and experiences. My time at Hamline definitely would not have been the same without my Catalyst family.

I really have found a family in every Catalyst trip I’ve been on. I have bonded with and grown with people I didn’t think I would ever have the opportunity to meet, but Catalyst brought us all together. And I am very thankful for Catalyst in that respect as well.

Another significant part of this gratitude post is the impact that Margot Howard, Coordinator of Social Justice Initiatives and the Hamline to Hamline Collaboration in the Wesley Center at Hamline. Margot was also the staff resource person on the D.C. trip this year. I can’t express enough just how thankful I am to have Margot as a leader and mentor. I know that I have grown so much as a student and leader from her example and support. Even though the trip leaders have certainly done their fair share of work on their trips, Margot has served as a behind-the-scenes resource person and source of support for every pair of student co-leaders. I can only guess how much work has gone into what Margot has done for every one of the Catalyst trips and all of the student leaders. I know much of my journey and growth is a direct result of the lessons I have learned from Margot. It is my hope after leaving Hamline to go out into the world and be even half of the leader, advocate and champion that Margot is. Margot, you mean so much to me and to my journey, and I am so honored to have had the pleasure of working with you and getting to know you. Thank you for everything you do for Catalyst.

In addition, this trip definitely would not have been possible without my student co-leader Maleni. Maleni, you have been such an amazing person to work with and plan this trip with, and I could not have asked for a better source of support during this process. I feel like Maleni and I have held each other up and have empowered one another to be the greatest leaders we can be, and I am very fortunate to have such a good friend and genuinely good person as a partner. Maleni, I know that you are going to do so many good things in this world, and I am very excited to see where your passions and talents take you. I know it will be far.

Thank you 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014 D.C. Catalyst trips, thank you Margot, thank you Maleni, THANK YOU Wesley Center, and thank you friends and families of all Catalyst trips and participants.

I want to conclude by saying that this certainly is not the end. I know that though my time at Hamline is ending and my time as a student on Catalyst trips is ending, the work will not end, the need will not end, and the drive will not end. I am very excited for the next steps, and I feel very confident that my Catalyst experiences have prepared me well to take these steps. It is with a very heavy heart that I say goodbye to Hamline and Catalyst, but I am motivated, hopeful, and optimistic to continue this journey.

Let the journey continue… :)


Be the change you want to see

How do you see the world? I see it as a place where there is a big gap between the rich and the poor. I see it as a place where peace doesn't exist; there is a lot of violence. I see it as a place where discrimination happens and ignorance occurs. It is a sad place to be in. I also see it as a place where people are helping other people despite the different classes. There are people who care. I see it as a place where people come together to promote peace and justice. There are people who are just. I see it as a place where people accepts one another despite their identities. There are people who understands. It is a great place to be in. How do you want to see the world? I want to see people coming together to create a community where segregation doesn't occur, where there is a welcoming environment, where there are no violence, where anyone could be who they want to be without barriers tying them back, where everyone has equal opportunities to thrive, where education is an option, where everyone has a roof over their head, food to eat, and clothes to wear without being discriminated. I want to see unity, respect, understanding, peace, and love. What can you do in order to see the world you'd like to see? Understand and accept who you are and what you want to do. Be the leader you want to see and promote other leaders. Don't give up hope in yourself or in humanity. Be the change you want to see in the world and set examples. -Sandy Lo

Thursday, March 27, 2014

D.C Catalyst Trip Day Six: Law

Hello World!

So today is Thursday Day 6. We venture off to a new journey of our day. We woke up at 7:00am, pack a lunch and got breakfeast. Left to the metro/bus to our new destination: Martha's Table. Click link to find out  out more : 

Arriving to Martha's table we helped carried boxes and set up tables of food and distribute them to people.
Photos below to portray what we done:

After helping with Martha's table. My group went to Capital Area Food Bank Click link to find out more  from there our task was to box, tape, and separate food.  
After this we went back to the hostel where dinner was prepared for us spaghetti made by the Maleni, Zoe, Erica, Gordy & Patrica. The meal was delicious. My rating: 10/10. Great job!

We then had our reflection and talked about our days, play games and had a great bonding time together. Share laughs and smile :) As our reflection was done we went off to Froyo to grab us some delicious, amazing, & awesome yogurt. After Froyo we were split up to go to any destination we want. My group went to cruise around Chinatown.

Thanks and have a great night! I am looking forward to Day 7: Friday.

Day 6 Melissa

Wow, we're already six days into the trip and so far it has been a whirlwind of experience-- ups and downs, rights and lefts, Ks and Js and Ps and Os and 11ths and 12ths and New Yorks and Connecticuts and Pennsylvanias... (navigating the DC streets has proven to be quite a chore).

 Our service experiences have been inspiring and life-changing, but what has really defined those experiences for me was the 48-hour Homeless Challenge. Each step, each hour, taught me so much about humanity, the way people work, and what it means to be in a privileged socioeconomic situation-- because even though I am by no means wealthy, being middle class and able to live a fairly comfortable life (having access to a bed, shelter, food when I'm hungry, a shower, an education) equates to me as a large privilege over sleeping in the streets and begging for money because I simply have no other option in order to survive. My socioeconomic situation may not always seem a privilege to me as I walk DC and see well-dressed government officials and CEO's running around with their Starbucks and fancy briefcases, and my privilege may not be as extreme as theirs, but middle class is still privilege, and having been on the challenge and recognizing that privilege has made me so grateful for the things I have, until recently, taken for granted.

And the thing is, sometimes living in that privileged situation allows for the freedom to focus on little unimportant bad things that happen in life and between humans. It's a privilege to have brain space to worry about small things. Don't get me wrong, while I was homeless many more faults in humanity were exposed to me, but what stuck out even more to me was the pure goodness that exists within humanity. Never before have I lived for a consecutive 48 hours solely at the hands of humanity's generosity. Never before have I been so reliant on other people's goodness. The money given to me while panhandling, the lady who let me borrow a pen at her convenience store, my guide, Anthony, who called for more blankets as I laid in an alley shivering and crying, the men and women driving the Martha's Table van who gave me an extra sweatshirt and sweatpants, treated me like a human being, and gave me food, the other people experiencing homelessness who offered me advice and their stories, my partner, Patricia, for stress-laughing with me, and my partner, Lauren, for being my pain buddy and riding the bus with me when our joints hurt too much to walk, the 19-year-old girl I met in the upstairs bathroom of the library who told me her heartbreaking story of foster care and women's shelters and who made the terrible reality of homelessness and suffering youth so real for me in a way no other person could have, the people who shook my hand as I left the church on Sunday morning and everybody else that is escaping my mind now-- each one of the people behind each of those blessings proved to me that humanity is more than designer clothes and bumping elbows, more than fancy jobs and pristine apartments--and the wanting of those things. Being a member of humanity is about standing next to each other in support and pain and humor and realizing that we are all in this life together-- no person less than or greater than the other. Each situation is only a situation, a trap only if we are alone in it--which we absolutely never, ever are if we look close enough. Being a human is about more than tucking ourselves safely inside of our own privilege and never daring to venture out and recognize the vast amount of systematic benefits that we somehow unjustly have received and how messed up that actually is. Being a human is about recognizing that privilege, and working hard to extend that privilege to others, even if that means we have to give up a little of our own. That whole extending our privilege, extending our hand, and being generous thing, that's love. Being a human is about being the walking vision of love.

This is where the organizations we have been volunteering for come in, as each place stands as a reaching hand into the hopelessness and loneliness that is homelessness. Volunteering at Martha's Market, SOME (So Others Might Eat), A Wider Circle, DC Central Kitchen, Bread for the City, as well as everywhere else, has even furthered my belief in the goodness that is the human race. As we help at each of these places in whatever way we can, I am reminded that absolutely anybody can support a good thing-- and that's where our power lies as volunteers: we get to decide what matters and what organizations we want to support with our time. By volunteering at the organizations we are volunteering at, we are making a statement to the world that we stand firmly on the side of goodness and justice, firmly on the side of ending homelessness and eradicating poverty.

As Sandy put so gracefully in reflection this afternoon, all we really need to do is "show up" and we are well on our way to making a difference. I hope that is what we've been doing this week--"showing up" in a city plagued with an overwhelming amount of people experiencing homelessness and helping in whatever way we can to minimize homelessness in the short amount of time we're here.

I am so excited to see where our last day of service tomorrow will lead, and feel so grateful to have been able to spend my break learning and serving. It has been a privilege in and of itself.


Hey from DC- McKenzie

Hey all!

So today was probably my favorite day of the whole trip.  We woke up a little later than normal, actually got to eat breakfast at the hostel, and then set-up and served the homeless population of DC through Martha's Market.

We hopped on a bus, got to Martha's Table, and headed up to the gym to set up the Market.  There were people lined up outside all waiting to get in before the trucks were even there! It was great to be able to do all of the grunt set up work and then actually serve the people.  We greeted everyone with tea, smiles, and good mornings! I even got to throw in a little bit of Spanish knowledge.  Thank goodness I remembered the words for hot and cold!

After we finished up there, my group went to the Capital Area Foodbank to sort food.  Rayla and I had a ton of energy and were willing to help with everything! It was fun for a while but I could see how it would get a little long volunteering there.

We all met back at the hostel for a great spaghetti dinner and a good reflection.  We decided we needed some FroYo after our 4 o'clock dinner and basically ran there!  And of course shopping followed..

Anyway, goodnight!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Rayla Post

After looking back at the homeless challenge I realized how much mental and physical pain homeless people go through. I don't think words will be able to describe how much pain all of our bodies are in right... our feet, legs, and backs feel awful. As far as the mental pain after eight hours of being homeless I began feeling awful the way people on the street would look at us was so rude and degrading. The homeless challenged changed my life in many ways and helped me gain a understanding of what it is possibly like to be homeless. 
 We all are extremely exhausted and even though this trip is life changing I can't wait to go home and see my family. 

- Rayla 

The Homeless Challenge: Transformation

It is now day four of the D.C. Catalyst trip and I am e.x.h.a.u.s.t.e.d!  All of us are feeling the last three days weighing on us heavily, clinging to our feet that refuse to stop aching, our minds that scream for endless hours of sleeping, our bodies that cry at even the thought of moving, but mostly our hearts that ache and scream and cry for the people we have had the honor to meet, share stories, and serve.
The Homeless Challenge was everything I expected: cold, sad, lonely, confusing, frustrating, hurtful, difficult, embarrassing, grueling...the list could go on, but it was also so much more.  I will share one take away with you all.
It was awe-inspiring to see how much little things that people do make such a difference in both positive and negative ways.  For example, people gave us money to eat breakfast, lunch, or dinner; people came to the parks to serve us dinner; an employee allowed us to use the restroom even though there was a sign that said it was for customers only, an employee at McDonald's looked me in the eye, smiled and greeted me like a regular customer, and the library security didn't want to search my bag before I entered.  I could go on forever, but I will share this story instead.
Melissa and I enter the museum looking to find something cool to look at.  We walk through the golden double doors that open upon us nearing them and I feel a small amount of dread.  Dread that someone may see our trash bags full of blankets, the state of our hair, or the state of our clothing and shoo us like flies at a July 4th picnic.  We sat on some benches with our bags at our feet and notice how no one is entering the area of the museum we are in.  We sit for some time resting our feet and chit chatting about all the things that happened that day until we decide to see the rest of the museum.  As we enter the nest exhibit area we are immediately picked out by the security guard—my heart jumps in my throat—then she smiles and the fear rising inside me slowly melts away.
"Did you know we have lockers that you can put those bags in?"
"No, we didn't"
"They are over there (as she points to the other side of the information desk) just ask over at information."
"Thank You"
Melissa and I are all too eager to shove those unsightly bulges into the small lockers and take some time to leisurely stroll through the exhibits and corridors without all the stares, without all the aversion.  Once we make it through a few exhibits, a covered courtyard, and the gift shop, we realize there is something wrong.  People are willing to come close to us, even bump our shoulder when they walk past.  There is also a shift of regard.  (Now this is hard to explain, but stick with me.)  When we were in full-homeless character there was a vibe coming off of everyone we passed.  It strikes me now, that I felt the way you would expect the weird kid in class feels as everyone else is sharing stories about his weirdness unbeknownst to him/her.  That vibe is gone.We feel normal.  This realization made me aware of what it actually felt like to be homeless.
My partner and I talked about how much of human life is about setting goals and filling our days with things to do because we need to feel useful.  We then spoke about how in losing that we lose our sense of purpose on this Earth, we lose our sense of dignity, we lose our sense of belonging, we lose our sense of contribution and worst of all we lose hope.  We lose the hope that we are making a difference in the world.  I felt I had lost the right to occupy space on this Earth.  Others refused to let us sit in their establishment, they ignored us, darted their eyes away from us, refused to let us use the restroom...etc.  These may not seem like huge acts of cruelty, but they are because it goes back to the principle that we are all human and for being alive we deserve dignity and respect.  Each and every human, including those experiencing homelessness, deserve to be treated well.

It was amazing to realize the positive effects something as small as letting someone use the restroom, or smiling at them could have when you know the story of how this person; who smells like they haven't showered in three days, is carrying a trash bag full of God knows what, and who has dirty and disheveled hair; ended up at this particular McDonald's at six a.m. Equally amazing is the amount of damage these seemingly slight actions could have on that same person.  This challenge is not over because being aware is only half the challenge now it is my duty and honor to take steps to action.  I hope you will join me.

I am forever grateful to David, the man that gave us money when we panhandled for breakfast; the lady that gave me and Gordy her FiveGuys order, the lady that gave us her chips, the afore mentioned do gooders, the National Coalition for the Homeless, and our guides.  I also thank everyone from D.C. for being our test subjects, so that we may learn the error of our ways, reflect on our humanity and enact change.

- Patricia Mata

Day 5 for Lauren

We had another early morning today, waking up at 5 so we could arrive at our destination at 6:45, which was So Others Might Eat (SOME). This morning we served breakfast to a couple hundred homeless people which was actually the highlight of my day. There was one who wrote his own songs, and taught himself how to play the piano. One of our own group members sat down and started singing with him, and spent a good half hour with him which not only made her day, but also his. I also met a guy who saw my name tag and knew right away my last name was German. It turns out, he lived in Austria for three years, so naturally he speaks German, and so naturally we started speaking in German. One thing that I've definitely learned over the past few days is that homeless people aren't who we expect them to be. They weren't born homeless, they did have a life before this and they aren't dumb. One of our guides worked for the federal government and is now currently homeless. She wrote a college curriculum on the study of Endocrinology after only taking one semester of the class. We always think that because they smell, and they look dingy, and they're worn out, and tired that they don't know anything but that's the farthest thing from the truth.

After that we went to the United Nations Foundation and learned about different projects they're working on, like Girl Up, Nothing But Nets, and Shot @ Life. All of them are worth checking out! After that we went to a non-profit organization that was basically like a huge food shelf. When we were there we sorted cans into different categories for a couple hours and got to know other volunteers.

At the end of today, I can say that I'm glad we're done for the night, but can't keep thinking about those who are still on the streets. Yes, the challenge is over but there are so many still out there. One guy who stood out to me was a 20 year old, which is the youngest we've met. He was such a happy person, especially for being homeless. When homeless, it's so easy to lose all hope and give up but even after 8 months on the streets, Ernest had such a great outlook on what was going on, and was just happy to meet all of us.

Day 3/4 for Lauren

The last 16 hours of the Homeless Challenge were pretty relaxed, nothing awful. After the first day of being homeless you start figuring out really how to survive on the streets and what to fill your day with. So starting from where I left off last, we were going to see the movie at the library, which we couldn't find and we ended up running into our whole group even though we're sent out into the entire DC in just pairs of two. All of us had come to see the movie. I was offered a job at a food vending stand, however turned it down, since I wouldn't be able to actually stay. It would've been nice to see the food vendor ask a real homeless person if they wanted a job, considering that's one of the hardest things for homeless people to get.

Later on we all met up at Five Guys to figure out where we were sleeping for the night. Three of our group members weren't able to sleep out on the streets due to medical conditions so our group size was down to nine. We were told it was supposed to snow that night and it would be a rough night and that they would have to call hypothermia to get more blankets. Our guide for the night was a man who had been previously homeless for more than ten years! We stayed in a dark alley behind a dumpster that he used to go to. Because there were only three of us, we were able to have 10 blankets total, which was the best thing in the world considering the night before we had 5 blankets for 4 people. We had the routine again of going in to the dumpster, getting as much cardboard as possible, layering it on the ground, laying a couple blankets on top of that and then laying down. I remember the first night was about 20 degrees without the windchill and it was pretty cold, even with lots of layers of clothes and a few layers of blankets on. The second night however, we each had two blankets individually and shared another 2 blankets so we were snug as a bug. I remember waking up in the middle of the night and realizing that while I was sleeping I must have kicked my shoes off because they definitely weren't on anymore.

Our guide woke us up at 4:30 that morning saying he was frozen and had to pee, so let's go get some coffee. We hurried up and made our way to the nearest McDonald's, all of us wishing he would've taken at least one blanket from us to use, considering we had 10 and he 0. We stayed at McDonald's until 6 or so and then were kicked out. Our guide was kind enough to show us to a Metro Bus to kill time and stay warm, which is where we stayed until the challenge was over at 8.

We got back to our hostel, showered, ate, and left to go to an organization called A Wider Circle. What they do is they have furniture, clothes, toys, beds, everything for a home, donated to them and then give them to families in need. There is no requirement that people have to meet to be able to receive furniture, they do however ask families every once in a while about income and they found the average family they help has an annual income of $12,000! So what we did was help move furniture into peoples trucks and also moved furniture from their warehouse up into the showroom. After that we left and went to DC Central Kitchen which is where lots of needed food for those who don't have food come from. They supply the food for after school programs, for food shelters, and just to serve directly. We were there for a few hours, my job was to cut onions, and let me tell you, we put our blood, sweat and tears into them. Of course they made us cry, but I also ended up cutting my finger so there we have the blood.  We came back and had dinner, had reflection and finally got to sleep in a bed.

Before and after the Homeless challenge

Before I participated in the homeless challenge, I had the stereotypical view of homeless people. Homeless people wore ragged and dirty clothes, they don't have work related skills, smell, panhandled often, live in the streets, alcohol and drug addicts etc.

During the challenge, I learned that not all homeless people relate to the stereotypes. I came across people who shared their stories with me. Each and every story was different; people weren't born homeless. Depression brought one person into becoming homeless. After getting a divorce with a wife he spent 20 years with, he became really sad and depressed to the point where he allowed himself to be homeless. He had a good job, but stopped working and paying his bills. He became homeless for 3 months until he started to control depression. Another person had schizophrenia and  became homeless because he wasn't able to hold a steady job. He was take to a police station after being found sleeping on federal park. He went to court; the charges were dropped and he medical help was received. A lady was thrown out of her government home for the elder that started with a complaint. Her children never grew up on welfare, her brother, sons, and nephews all served the military/navy, she always paid her rent on time, and she even worked for the government at one point of her life. She is out on the streets protesting silently. These people weren't born homeless. A reason why they can't get themselves out of homelessness is because they lost hope and opportunities are not given to them for them to thrive.

Majority of the homeless people I met looked just like regular citizens. A few of them carried a bag or a stroller to hold all of their belongings and saw few panhandlers. (Panhandlers don't make much money). No one could tell that they were homeless; the only way you'd know is if you talked to them of their situation. Anyone could be homeless, even professionals such as doctors and lawyers.There are places to take showers, do laundry, eat, and sleep. No one knew that I was homeless during the challenge because they didn't ask; they all assumed that I was just a kid out in the streets. When I did share my story of being homeless, I received a lot of support (even though some of my colleagues were yelled at because we were only pretending to be homeless). Homeless people themselves would tell me where to get food, shelter, clothes, traveling passes, and where to seek social workers. They were worried that youths are homeless because homelessness shouldn't happen to anyone especially at such a young age. There are 4 houses available for every homeless family.

After the challenge of living and sleeping out in the streets for two days, I became very thankful of what I have. I am thankful to have loving and supportive family and friends; I am thankful for having clothes, food, a bed, and shelter; I am also thankful for having an education and opportunities to better myself. I also broke down the wall of stereotypes by being able to experience homelessness first hand and became more aware of the needs when there is no house to return to. Homeless people are just like you and me; help them when they need it, whether that means giving them your spare change, offering them a meal, or even acknowledging them by saying hi or a smile. They become invisible and lose hope so remind them of who they are by asking their name or their story.

Today at SOME (so you can eat food kitchen for the homeless people), I met a homeless person who taught himself how to play the piano. I wasn't able to give him any money for meals later on the day, but I was able to make him laugh and smile. I sang while he played the piano and could tell he enjoyed it. It was a great way to start a day.

-Sandy Lo

Parts of the lyrics below from the made up song today

Woke up this morning, the sky is bright and clear.
The sun is high, up in the sky.
Stand up, need to continue to move forward,
All it takes is one step at a time, one step at a time.

Don't let anyone pull you back, don't let anyone push you back
Move forward, walk, run, never give up
Spread your wings and fly, and touch the sky

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Photos March 2014

It's only Tuesday?!

Wow. What. A. Day.

Even though I woke up at about 5:30 this morning it feels like I've been awake for a week.

Slept on the ground again last night as part of the Challenge. Actually though I got a pretty good nights rest. I was dreading nighttime all day yesterday because I kept hearing rumors of falling snow and that we'd be waking up to a foot on the ground. We were lucky - it only started snowing at about 830 the next morning as we were concluding our Challenge. I still need some more time to personally reflect on the experience as a whole and hopefully I'll be able to fully understand what happened and be able to share it with all of you, but for now I only have one thing that needs to be said.

Even though the 12 of us had the privilege of concluding our 'Challenge' today, we can't forget the hundreds of thousands of genuine human beings in the country who can not. You know something is wrong with your country when the rich and powerful walk right past people that are experiencing homelessness like they're invisible.

That's all from me - I'll let the other people tell you all about the rest of the week whoops I mean day...

- Gordy

Quick Update

The 48 hour homeless challenge has just ended. Everyone is safe back at the hostel and enjoying a nice shower as I type. We are off in an hour to do some service. Check back tonight to hear about their experiences.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Day 3 for Lauren

Hi all,

It's day three of the trip. We are nearing the end of the 48 hour homeless challenge with about 16 hours left! It's definitely been an experience of a lifetime and an experience that I'm not sure I want to repeat. I'm currently at the Martin Luther King Public Library, on a public computer. Yesterday, I walked all around D.C. with my partner and we saw the capital, the white house, and a lot of other important buildings. We went to church, the Reverend gave us $35 in grocery store gift cards as well as a bus pass to get home (to our fake home in New Jersey). My partner and I walked all day, stayed in the M Station for a bit at a time to warm up. We also found a homeless food shelter that was handing out food to the homeless, one of the homeless waved us over to get some food, we got in line and were called out for not actually being homeless. I started tearing up and wanted to leave but the man that waved us over told us they were also handing out sweatshirts, socks, sandwiches, a lot of other things, so we got a quick something and as we were leaving were flicked off and were sworn at and called names. That was definitely the worst part of the day. The night really wasn't that bad, we had five blankets for four people and had a guide with us who was currently homeless. She showed us where to dumpster dive to find cardboard to sleep on and made sure we were all warm enough.

This morning we were paired up with different people and we tried panhandling. We asked a store to borrow a pen, found a piece of cardboard and wrote: Homeless, anything helps. Thank you. Within 5 minutes we had acquired  $55 as well as a croissant each. We decided that was enough for the day and we still had left over food from the day before. We went to the library, where we stayed for a couple hours. My partner saw a bus outside and suggested we take the bus around the city just to kill some time, so we did. I got on the bus and was to pay $2, the driver asked if I was a tourist, I replied, "I'm homeless". He said he'll charge me half price and to take it safe. We killed a couple hours with the ride, went to Starbucks and are now back at the library. There's a free movie showing the library at 6 that we're going to to kill time and then we're all meeting up at 9 to find somewhere to sleep. Tomorrow morning, like this morning, we'll be up by 5:30 and out of where we stayed at latest by 6, and be back to the Coalition by 8. Let's make tonight a good one.

Rayla and Cristina @ barnes and nobel

Hey guys so we are here at the barnes and nobel blogging live from washington DC! Its chilly out today! We are on hour 30 of our homeless challenge and last night was really rough! We just got yelled at for using the nook device its pretty clear we are not welcomed here... we don't have any food or money right now so we will need panhandle soon but we are trying to avoidthe weather. Tonight there will be snow so wish our group luck sleeping outside!
Stay tuned tunned for more updates on our adventure!
Rayla and c

48 Hour Homeless Challenge (Hour 24)

This is Margot Howard, the staff resource person on the DC Catalyst trip.

At 8am on Sunday the students began the 48 hour Homeless Challenge through the National Coalition for the Homeless. It is sure to be one of the defining moments of the Catalyst DC experience. We were happy to hear that it is much warmer this week than the group had last year, but it is still certainly a huge challenge that will give them an insight into a situation most have never had to face. It is worth mentioning that we realize that this in no way means that any of us will understand what it is truly like to be homeless. The mental assurance of a hot shower in 30 hours or knowing that one can quit at any time are luxuries that those facing homessness don't have.

They were given all of the resources that any person experiencing homelessness would receive through The Coalition: a map, a list of places they can get food, and blankets. They work in pairs through the day, hauling disaster blankets in large garbage bags. At night they meet in groups of four, each with a guide from The Coalition. The guides are all currently or formerly homeless. The guide gives them some tips on where they can dumpster dive for cardboard to sleep on, brings them to their favorite spot to sleep, and teaches them how to make the most out of the supplies they have. They finish off the evening by hearing their guides story. Everyone tries their best to get some much needed sleep while the guide stays awake and watches over them.

I met up with them this morning to check in and they were all doing as well as one can in this situation. Many had tried pan-handling (Sandy got a whole $9!). Many tried to go into various businesses to warm up, only to be asked to leave. Some visited some religious organizations and were welcomed with open arms. Be sure the check back tomorrow and Wednesday for personal posts about their experiences.

I will be meeting up with the group tonight to be sure everyone is able to stick it through the last 12 hours. I can't tell you the bravery and determination that this experience takes. I am very proud of their strength and commitment and am looking forward to hearing all that they have learned.

Tomorrow morning we will meet at The Coalition to start processing the experience. They then will return to the hostel, take a much needed shower, and then we are off to begin the service portion of the experience.


Saturday, March 22, 2014

Day 1 for Lauren

Alright, so it's the first day on the trip. We've successfully made it from Minneapolis to Chicago to our final destination D.C., where we will be for the remainder of the trip. We've experienced the littlest plane in the world, an hour delayed flight, which was actually a plus because we were able to meet this woman who was quite a character! She went to college at 16, married at 18, had her own business by 30 while getting her bachelors degree, and having 5 kids in 8 years. Her business is in the health care field and is a hospice/home care place. She now has over 150 employees, is spread through 8 counties in Illinois and sees around 200 patients a day. One thing that struck me is her personal experience with homeless. She said she volunteered at a shelter once and met someone whose toenails had grown so long that they had grown to curve down under her feet and they were now growing into her skin. Toenails and finger nails are things that I never would have thought of to take care when homeless, that's one of the last things I would have thought of. It's great that even just on our way to our destination to learn about and experience homelessness, people are able to share their own personal experiences they've had.

So we got to D.C., immediately listened to a panel of a couple people who have experienced being homeless themselves, which they also had incredible stories; one of the men had been living on the streets for three years as a result of drugs and alcohol (the "stereotypical" homeless person). The other, had been homeless for three months after going through a divorce from a marriage of 20 years. He had spiraled into a huge depression, losing his job, his home, his car, everything. They were both great stories to hear, and had great insight they shared with us about the homeless challenge we're starting in the morning. Next was grocery shopping, dinner, and free time. We've spent a lot of time today prepping and talking about our challenge for the next two days. We were told we couldn't shower Saturday (today) or wash our faces tomorrow morning. We'll see how it goes.

Day One

Today has been a long, exhausting day of travel.  We flew from Minneapolis to Chicago, then from Chicago to DC, coming in around 5 or 6.  

Shortly after arriving at the hostel, we had the opportunity to sit down with two men who had previously experienced homelessness.  Their stories and powerful words offered as a personal glimpse into this problem that the country is faced with.  There were two things that really stuck with me that were said during this time.  The first being, if you happen to error, make sure you error on the side of kindness.  The other thing that will stick with me was said after this gentleman got done telling his story of how he found himself in a situation where he was the one who was homeless.  He said he had a purpose in life and that he had to go through what he was faced with in order to fulfill that purpose.  That really struck me as an incredible way to look at everything that had been faced with and is a lesson that everyone could apply to their lives.  Being homeless wasn't a part of what he had pictured for his life, but it became a part of his journey, and through that struggle he is able to now fulfill that purpose in his life.

We're off to do the homeless challenge tomorrow and I'm not completely sure what to expect from it yet....I'm scared/excited/nervous all at the same time, so we'll see how it goes!!


D.C Day One

Today we arrived in D.C after a long day of travel. When we landed it was 70 and sunny! We made our way to the hostel taking the metro (line Yellow) for the fist time. It was great people watching. After getting settled we had a panel from the national coalition for the homeless come and speak with us. Their stories were really interesting and inspiring. They dispelled many myths about the homeless  population.

Tomorrow we will begin the 48 hour homeless challenge. I am very excited and maybe a little nervous. I hope it doesn't rain. 


Day 1

I arrived at the 4th door of the big terminal in the Twin Cities to a cast of blank glares. Maybe it was because it was 8:00 AM, or maybe it was because of the mystery of Catalyst that was ahead of us. I'd like to think it was a mixture of the two.

The first plane ride was uneventful and short. I remember debating in my head whether or not to get up to use the facilities when the attendant announced we'd be in Chicago in 15 minutes. I waited until we were there.

An hour later we were back on a plane heading towards our destination. Physically it was uneventful but I cant even begin to explain where my mind was at. Maybe ask me when you see me and I'll be able to put it into words? Anyways, we arrived safely.

The train was my first glimpse at life here. It was pretty much just as at the airport stop but as the journey continued the car filled up more and more. A station called Pentagon came and went by surprise, I must have forgotten where I was already. People look the same as anywhere else.

Did I mention that it's like 70 degrees?! I forgot what that felt like! Tomorrow we start the Homeless Challenge and the temp. is supposed to drop back down to Minnesota standards. I'm excited to see this new city in a perspective that I have almost never seen any other city. Most of all though I'm excited to meet new people, which is odd because I'm definitely an introvert. We'll see how it all turns out!

-Gordy V.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Welcome to the Washington D.C Catalyst trip-!

Welcome to the Washington D.C Catalyst trip-

During the trip (March 22nd to March 29th) each day on the trip people will be posting things throughout the trip like; the experiences they are going through, working in a team setting, and things they can improve on and take back with them so they can reflect and apply it to their lives. Please stay tuned and and look out for the posts!