While some students spent spring break relaxing at home, a group of university students decided to spend their break being homeless.
Each year the Center for Community Involvement and Service-Learning TCU offers service spring breaks to students. This year, Mel Gruver, the community engagement coordinator at the university, focused a trip on homelessness in Tarrant County.
She said the idea was an extension of a trip the university had previously organized. The previous trip did not involve students staying at the center overnight, and only offered them an overview of issues in Tarrant County.
“I noticed that our students were really connecting with our homelessness and hunger day,” she said. “So I started exploring what it could be like to do a whole week on homelessness in Tarrant County.”
The trip this year lasted four days and five nights. It allowed students to visit and to serve at various resource locations available to people who are homeless and to spend the night in homeless shelters.
Participants said they enjoyed the opportunity to interact with the homeless population on a personal level.
Liz Schmitt, a sophomore nursing major and the student leader of the trip, said the experience helped her become more aware and passionate about homelessness.
“I think that my passion has definitely increased mainly because of the face-to-face interaction and seeing that it is a big issue in this community,” she said.
Meg Mathews, a freshman child development major, said the trip allowed her to build a personal relationship with and learn about people that are homeless, something that she would not normally be able to do.
Participants like Schmitt and Mathews chose the trip because it allowed them to continue serving the community after the break was over, they said.
Mathews said, “Not only does it [the trip] enlighten us about the opportunities in our community, but it also makes it able for us to come back and serve again.”
Gruver said she has enjoyed observing students interacting with people who are homeless.
“We’re having fun and we’re laughing a lot,” she said. “It’s been great to look beyond the issue and see the personalities and the assets of our community and those we serve.”
During the trip, students served food and assisted at shelters, engaged in outreach programs such as the Street Outreach Services from Catholic Charities and interacted with people who were homeless at the Day Resource Center.
Participants spent each night in various homeless shelters in the community such as Broadway Baptist Church and the First United Methodist Church. Their last night was spent outdoors at Unity Park, a location meant to promote unity between various churches, ministries and outreaches that serve the homeless population in the East Lancaster area.
Mathews said spending the night in different shelters allowed her to better understand what the daily life of a homeless person is really like.
“It made you understand these people a little bit more and respect their lifestyle and who they are and how they live,” she said.