For my activist project this semester, I chose to enroll in a service-learning placement through the Shriver Center. I chose to do this because I had always wanted to consistently volunteer somewhere but never felt like I had the time to. Having the option to volunteer as a part of a course was a perfect way for me to do this, and I chose to serve at the Weinberg Housing and Resource Center in Baltimore because I wanted to learn more about effective ways to address homelessness. Initially I wasn’t sure if volunteering could be a form of activism, and I was worried that doing this wouldn’t feel like enough of an activist project.
The Weinberg Housing and Resource Center is a part of the larger Catholic Charities Organization and its mission is to address the problems of poverty and homelessness in the city of Baltimore by providing shelter for 275 residents, breakfast and dinner (with lunch provided across the street at Our Daily Bread), providing each resident with a case manager, hosting workshops and self-care activities for residents, and providing convalescent care for homeless individuals who have just been released from the hospital and need a place to recover. The Weinberg Center also provides free HIV testing weekly, and refers residents to Health Care for the Homeless for medical care. Every Monday this semester from 4:30-7:30 PM I helped out with the dinner service for the center’s residents. There are usually at least six volunteers working together during this time, with resident volunteers helping in the kitchen and distributing meal tickets. The meal times are divided into two sessions, one for women and one for men. Meals are served restaurant style, with some volunteers making plates and others bringing the plates to tables as individuals sit down. Each resident is given a ticket when they walk in, so the center can count how many people came for dinner on any given day.
One of my biggest goals while volunteering at the Weinberg Center was to talk to people. I felt that I should use this time to try to learn as much as I can about homelessness in Baltimore and what resources are available for people that need it. I’ve come to realize that I was going about this project the wrong way. The people at the center were not there for me to learn from, rather I was there to provide a service that the organization needs to sustain itself. Volunteers at social service sites are so important, because they allow the organization to use more of their money to provide vital resources to the population they serve that they would otherwise use to pay staff members. Through my time volunteering here, I’ve learned more about what it means to be an activist in a setting like this. To me, to be an activist through volunteering is to help places like this survive and adequately provide for people. I’m really thankful that I had the opportunity to volunteer as part of an ongoing class project, because going consistently made me feel a lot more comfortable and I ended up really enjoying the Monday evenings I spent there. It wasn’t the life-changing activist experience that I thought it was going to be, but it made me feel good to be a small part of a positive resource in a community.
For more information on the Weinberg Housing and Resource Center and Catholic Charities, follow this link to their website: http://www.catholiccharities-md.org/weinberg-housing-resource-center/