And such, our week of immersion ends. As one of our last activities of the week, we participated in a panel this morning on a number of subjects that kind of summed up what we learned and what we experienced this week. We met and spoke with panelists from the Second Harvest Food Bank, the Seminole County Government, and Coalition for the Homeless (which we toured and volunteered at yesterday). Topics discussed included the apparent ineffectiveness of VA services, the role that government does and should play in monetary, food, and health care assistance, and what we, as individuals, can and should do to relieve the problems that we learned about this week. An idea that really struck me during the conversation today was what one panelist told us that his mentor once told him: “Run toward that which disturbs you.” This struck a chord with me as an excellent way to find a cause to volunteer your money, time, and effort toward throughout your entire life. What is it in our society that sickens, disturbs, and frightens you? THAT is what you should devote your service efforts to. For me, it’s environmental and animal rights issues. For someone else, it’s hunger and homelessness. For you, it may be something entirely different. But regardless of what it is, find that that. Find that thing and do something– anything– to change it. That is how you make a difference. One cause, one effort, one step at a time.
welcome to Service Street
After returning to Orlando this morning, we went on a kind of driving tour around the city. The differences in cleanliness, safety, and newness of the buildings and sidewalks between one side of the train tracks, Division Street, or other kinds of physical barriers and the other– the differences between the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ parts of town– are painfully obvious. We would go from driving past high end restaurants, luxury condos, and boutiques to driving past run-down homes, pawn shops, and 24 hour laundromats in a second. The ‘haves’ can walk over to their windows and look directly down from their high-rise buildings and condos on the ‘have nots.’ There’s something very medieval about the whole thing. One of the many things that’s so disturbing about this trend is the vast difference between how the city and the city officials treat the two ‘sides’ of town. The police presence was easily three times as noticeable on the ‘other side’ of town, the city provided next to no trash cans (and thus a way to keep the area clean) to the area, and city ordinances have prohibited panhandling. I’m not here to tell you that anyone who lives on the ‘safer ‘ or ‘good’ or ‘better’ or ‘our’ part of town is to blame. But I do think we should all be aware (at the very least) of the conditions that many people live in– just a few miles away from our beautiful, warm, and safe abodes.
which side do you live on?
Well, today did not go the way I expected it to. This morning, instead of joining the rest of the group at the Habitat for Humanity site to install cabinets, I found myself going from the hotel to a nearby clinic to the closest E.R. due to terrible stomach pains. I’m doing just fine now, but the blood work, x-rays, and exams took quite a bit of time. It also took quite a bit of information and money. Just to be seen, I needed to give out my name, birthdate, social security number, permanent address, occupation, phone number, and emergency contact. And then there’s the matter of paying for my exam and treatment. I’m fully insured, but I still needed to pay a pretty significant copay and for my three prescription medications. I thought of Darrell and Stacy and Art and Lauren (the men and women we met last night) and the other thousands of homeless and uninsured in this country. If they woke up with the same pains that I did today, they would not have been able to receive anywhere near the care that I did, if any at all. I find this not only unfair and unjust, but downright unacceptable.
I feel bad that I wasn’t able to participate in the Habitat for Humanity build today. I got a great sense of satisfaction out of working on it yesterday, and I wish I could have contributed further today. I, unfortunately, had no control over my medical situation, but I decided I’d do something else (no matter how small) to– in some kind of way– make up for my missed service hours. What I’ve come up with is a plan. At Rollins, we have a set number of dollars on our meal plan each semester. This money can be spent at any of several eateries across campus, including a convenience store stocked with all sorts of food: the C-Store. There are many of us that have money left on our meal plan at the end of each semester that we simply will not ever use. I want to start a group that encourages both its members and all Rollins students to use their leftover meal plan money at the end of each semester to buy up any and all non-perishable food items from the C-Store and donate it all to a local homeless shelter or food bank. I recognize that this wouldn’t solve the CAUSES of hunger (which is what I– as I wrote yesterday– believe is the best way to approach the issue), but it would be something. And something is always better that nothing. I’m really excited about this, and I hope both my fellow immersion participants and fellow Rollins students will help me organize and participate in this.
Psst, let me know if you’re interested!
think we can beat this? I do.
A few hours ago, after listening to and having dinner with several currently homeless and ex-homeless people, we offered them rides to wherever they needed to go for the night. One woman walked to meet a friend somewhere. We dropped another woman off at a homeless shelter. We dropped one man off at the place he left his bike with merely a blanket in its basket. Another man was dropped off where he left his bags on the street. We then drove away in our rented minivan, playing on our smartphones, to our clean, safe, nice hotel where we’ll spend the night comfortably. I cannot put into words how this makes me feel, but ‘terrible,’ ‘frustrated,’ ‘thankful,’ ‘guilty,’ ‘privileged,’ ‘sad,’ ‘worried,’ and ‘helpless’ all come to mind.
I don’t want to just give these people a meal out or a twenty dollar bill. I don’t want to treat the effects; I want to treat the cause. What has gone so terribly wrong in our society that people– people who have earned college degrees, used to own $200,000 dollar homes, have extended families, can sing brilliantly, and want to work– are left to sleep on the street where they are often attacked by others, taken to jail by police officers, or robbed? Ayn Rand happened, that’s what. Okay, well it’s not all her fault. But it is the fault of our society’s subscription to her philosophy of “Creators” and “Leeches.” We, as a people, need to wake up and accept that our peers’ well being IS our responsibility. No one got where they are today without the help of at least one other person. No one. So let’s pay it forward, guys. Just try to keep that in mind next time you walk past someone sleeping on the street, drive past someone holding a cardboard sign, or complain about the taxes subtracted from your paycheck. I promise if you will, I will too.
^^ it's all her fault
I’m sitting in a hotel room in St. Petersburg trying to decide what part of our discussions and activities before our departure today I want to share and reflect further on. And let me tell you– it’s much more difficult than I would have expected. I guess one of the things that really struck a chord with me today was the slippery slope that leads to poverty, homelessness, and hunger, and how not-so-far-away from it we all are. One unexpected illness, job loss, or severing of family ties is all that it would really take to send one of us down a much less privileged and secure path. This realization had two major effects on me almost immediately. First, I felt a great sense of injustice. Many– most, in all likelihood– of the people in our country living in poverty or on welfare are not there through any inherent fault of their own. They may have been born into the cycle of poverty, suffered a family tragedy, or be a victim of the current economy. Second, the goal that I’ve had for myself for as long as I can remember– to achieve a strong level of stability for myself independently as early in my life as I feasibly can– was solidified tenfold. I realize that that’s a somewhat selfish revelation: to keep myself out of the kinds of situations that many people face every day. But humans are animals too, and we all instinctually have a very strong sense of self preservation. That being said, having stability also allows one to provide assistance to those in need, which I certainly intend to do. I go to bed tonight with a strong mix of emotions,– some good, some bad– but it will be very interesting to see what the rest of this week brings.
This guy's on a slippery slope too.