By Melanie Spina & Caroline Ryan
A group of 14 students and two staff members traveled to Washington, D.C. on Friday, Feb. 27 and Saturday, Feb. 28 to help feed the homeless citizens of our nation’s capital. Students worked alongside various non-profit organizations doing service work throughout the city. The trip was sponsored by the Office of Campus Life to provide a meaningful community service opportunity for students, according to Michael Berthel, Director of Campus Life.
Berthel explained that Campus Life partnered with the Youth Service Program (YSOP), an organization that is committed to helping young people participate in service projects. Campus Life has worked with YSOP in the past, during last summer’s first-year service project in New York. YSOP connects the university with local non-profits and individuals in the area that might need their help.
“While in D.C., our students worked with individuals who are hungry and homeless,” Berthel said. “They participated in a group dialogue led by social workers that are employed by YSOP about these important issues, and how there are so many [people] in need right in [D.C.].”
The Office of Campus Life wanted the trip to be affordable for students, and subsidized the cost of it, according to Berthel. Students who were interested in participating had to complete an online application, and pay a $50 registration fee. “We had 20 spots available, and all were filled within the first day. It was extremely popular, and we hope to run even more of these trips in the future,” Berthel added.
On Friday, Feb. 27, the LIU Post delegation was in charge of preparing dinner for guests in the immediate area of the YSOP headquarters. On Saturday, Feb. 28, the students traveled to various sites including local shelters, soup kitchens, and churches throughout D.C., and served hundreds of individuals in the city. The students stayed overnight in a gymnasium operated by the YSOP located in the heart of D.C., and returned to campus on Sunday.
Olivia Grillo, a sophomore English major, who went on the trip, thoroughly enjoyed her experience. “I would like to say that nothing compared to the feeling of knowing you were making even the slightest impact on another person’s life. Even something as small as seeing a genuine smile fills you up and makes you feel warm and whole,” she said. “While I was on dish duty, I heard my name being called, and I turned around to see Alan, one of my new friends who I had served food for, standing in the doorway. He told me he didn’t want to leave without saying goodbye, and that he’d miss me so much. I almost cried as I wrapped him into a hug. Later that night, not only did I cry, but I bawled like a baby,” Grillo said.
Berthel believes that it’s important for students to participate in projects like this. “By participating in service projects, not only are students able to serve as ambassadors for the LIU Post student community, but they are able to learn and participate in dialogues about important social issues that face our society by interacting with homeless [people], and getting to see how they can help them,” he said. “Our students are caring and thoughtful citizens, and our service programs on-campus and off-campus help highlight all they do.”
Tiffany Messing, a senior Musical Theater major, believes that it’s great that Post is offering these types of trips. “Unfortunately I work, and wasn’t able to sign up for this trip, but I think it’s such a great idea,” Messing said. “I’ve done service projects like this in the past, and I think they are such eye opening experience[s], and you [can] get so much from them.”
Messing also thought it was great that the trip filled to capacity. “That just shows how there are people who are really willing to give back,” she said. “Especially since a lot of times college students are perceived as not really caring about things like [this]; it’s important that they show that they do care and they do want to make a difference.”