Penn College Houses and Academic Services collaborated with Residential and Hospitality Services this past week to host events in honor of National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week as a part of their civic engagement project for the fall semester.
CHAS and RHS held a series of synchronous and asynchronous online events to educate the Penn community on hunger and homelessness and to show participants how to get involved and take action. The events were crafted to be beneficial to all participants regardless of prior knowledge and ability to contribute financially to the cause, Sansom Place Complex Manager Mark Cordova and Director of First Year Houses and Paraprofessional Training Licinia Kaliher, who spearheaded the initiatives, wrote in an email to The Daily Pennsylvanian.
The week's events kicked off Monday with an asynchronous screening of “The Wall,” a short film about the Native American tent community that formed in Minneapolis in 2018 to house homeless people. The documentary sheds light on the struggles many Americans face due to poverty, addiction, and homelessness.
“I watched a lot of documentaries to ultimately pick what we were watching, and this one was the most opinion-neutral, while still getting the point across," Cordova said. "It was a lot, though; there were moments where I had to pause and take a break and come back to it. And so I think that when I had to have those moments, that’s when I was like, ‘Yeah, this is something we should probably view and talk about and put it on individuals’ minds.'"
The week featured several other events, including a letter-writing campaign, in which a template email and directory were sent to participants to encourage them to petition their local, state, and federal representatives to expand their efforts to protect those facing homelessness and hunger. CHAS and RHS also held a donation drive and a synchronous virtual poverty simulation run by The Bethesda Project. The Bethesda Project is a Philadelphia-based nonprofit that provides shelter and other resources to homeless adults in the area, and hosts educational events for the Philadelphia community.
Spent, a virtual poverty simulation created by Urban Ministries of Durham in 2011, surprised participants, who had previously underestimated the difficulty of living on $1,000 for one month, Cordova said. The group consensus was that finances quickly snowball out of control, leading to some tough and unavoidable ethical choices at certain points.
Although it is possible to “beat” the simulation by making it to the end of the month with money left in the bank, participants quickly realized that having such little financial security is extremely stressful when there is always a chance an unexpected piece of misfortune might come along, Cordova said.
A synchronous group discussion on Friday wrapped up the week’s event series, providing participants with the opportunity to discuss their reactions to the movie screening, poverty simulation, and action plans going forward. The intent of the discussion was to bring closure to the week, leaving participants with a deeper understanding of how they could advocate for and support those facing hunger and homelessness, Cordova and Kaliher wrote.
CHAS plans to lead several more similar civic engagement projects for the Penn community in the near future. Prior civic engagement projects included working with local agencies like the Ronald McDonald House, Project Sweet Peas, Lisa’s Army, Career Wardrobe, Rescue Mission, and Hub of Hope.
“The hope is, as the campus returns, to explore larger-wide college house programming," Kaliher wrote. "We are experimenting with different formats to engage students during these challenging times."
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