LSJ Day of Service: Students and alumni come together

While volunteering is an important part of a University of Washington education, many people are often too busy to give back.

Despite their busy schedules, 12 LSJ undergraduates and 12 alumni volunteered at the Downtown Emergency Service Center (DESC) on Feb. 25 during the LSJ Day of Service.

“There was a range of people who participated, from students just admitted to the major to one of the first alums from Society and Justice,” said LSJ Director Steve Herbert.

DESC serves homeless adults in the Pacific Northwest and has nearly 1,000 units of supported housing throughout Seattle in eight housing projects, with two new facilities under development.  The LSJ group worked in the Union Hotel, which provides permanent housing for low-income individuals with mental health issues.

“This was a great opportunity for current students and local alumni to spend time together, and to provide an important service to a worthy organization,” Herbert said.

During the Day of Service, LSJ students and alumni interacted with residents by baking cookies and playing bingo. They also helped to clean a storage room to help create space for an In Kind Donations collection center, where people can drop off clothing and belongings.

“We are very dependent upon volunteers in carrying out our mission.  It would take me and our staff hours to accomplish what your group accomplished,” said Sara Marckx, the volunteer and In Kind gifts officer at DESC. “It looked like we were taking a lot of stuff out but we were creating space for a new program.”

The new program, Coach, is supported by United Way. Community volunteers will help support clients to reenter the workforce through work projects and vocational tasks such as resume building.

Chelsea Toby, who graduated in 2006, said one of the best parts of the event was playing bingo and listening to the stories of the residents.

“I think getting to interact with the people that our work was benefiting was the best part of the service.” Toby said. “It’s easy to feel like what you’re doing isn’t changing anything, but when you actually get to see and interact with the people that you are trying to help, it makes all the difference.”

This sentiment was shared by Anica Steive, an alumnus from the class of 2009.

“It’s nice to make time for people to be together and listen to their stories, to have those interactions that you normally wouldn’t have,” said Steive. “I think it’s nice for them to feel accepted and appreciated because I think these types of interactions are sometimes uncommon in today’s society.”

Marckx said that volunteers are important at DESC because it shows that people in the community care and value their residents.

“It reinforces the residents’ worth in the community. For many of the people we serve, they have lost their families and friends so having someone show up and make contact is very powerful,” Marckx said.

Andrea Greenstein, a senior studying LSJ and Spanish, said that the event was a great way to connect what she is learning from her LSJ 488 honors research class about housing with the work that DESC is doing.

“It was really interesting to put the work we learned in the classroom into action,” Greenstein said.

Greenstein said that it was also interesting to learn more about the Housing First model, a philosophy embraced by DESC.  This approach stresses the importance of providing housing to people who need it without requiring that they first meet some obligations, such as avoiding all drug and alcohol use.

“We got to learn about the Housing First program and see first-hand the work that DESC does,” she said.

Scott Wands, who graduated in 1973 from LSJ’s predecessor, the Society and Justice, said that he was excited to see so many students and alumni volunteering.

“It was nice to see the enthusiasm and young people thinking beyond themselves and wanting to give back and do some community service,” Wands said. “It’s always a good thing.”

Wands explained that as the Centennial Club President for the Rotary Club of Lake Forest Park, volunteering is a very important part of his life.

“I’m passionate about volunteering because the more that you’re able to help in society, the better society will become,” Wands said.

Toby said that it was great seeing the alumni and students volunteering together.  She noted that although they didn’t know each other at the outset, there was an instant bond because of the program and shared experiences, such as classes and professors.

“The [Day of Service] represented what the LSJ program is all about: people with diverse backgrounds and interests coming together and working toward a common goal of improving our community,” Toby said.

This article was composed by Charlotte Anthony.