Bridge gap between shelter and dorms

College students: Help yourselves while helping the homeless

Pat Hull is a recent graduate from the communication studies master’s degree program at Chico State University as well as a local musician.

The last semester of my graduate studies recently ended, and I have been reflecting on my course work in the Communication Arts and Sciences Department with the motivation to support my existing belief that education is important for individual and community growth. The “making the grade” mentality can certainly blur this importance, as I’ve seen it trick students, fellow classmates and myself into thinking that grades outweigh genuine learning and understanding.

What can also blur the importance of education is being stuck inside a classroom practicing the art of regurgitation and formal classroom practices. This is why I was thrilled to go outside of Chico State this past semester and work with the Torres Shelter, an emergency homeless center here in Chico. With the help of professor Stephanie Hamel, I was able to derive a course that sought to increase the effectiveness of the shelter.

During my first meeting with Patrick Conklin, a member of the Torres Shelter board of directors, it was clear that the shelter needed more visibility (as it sits behind Costco off Dr. Martin Luther King Parkway), more volunteerism and more financial support. Patrick explained to me that the center was missing a vital relationship with the university that could potentially provide the means for these increases.

I met with Ken Naas, Chico State’s internship coordinator, and found that the Torres Shelter was nonexistent on the internship database. It had no description of potential opportunities for students who might want to get involved (i.e. social-science majors, communication majors, etc.). When I met with Brad Montgomery, the shelter’s new executive director (see a profile on him in 15 Minutes, page 35), he assured me that he would register the Torres Shelter as an available outlet for students looking for internships.

Ken then referred me to Mary Flynn, director of Community Action Volunteers in Education, in order to bridge opportunities for Chico State volunteers, who possess entirely different objectives than paid or nonpaid internship opportunities. The timing, as Mary pointed out, was “fortuitous”—she and Brad had just started meeting about how to connect volunteer opportunities to the shelter.

Now, ideally, there will be a greater likelihood of student integration into the shelter. Why is this important? For many reasons; but in my opinion, this kind of student involvement will address misconceptions and inaccurate presumptions made about the homeless population. Maybe exposure and knowledge through volunteerism and internships will decrease the swell of these perceptions.