Serving the underserved on alternative spring break

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Yifan Shen, a junior at Fairleigh Dickinson University's Metropolitan Campus, and Timothy Fann, assistant director of student life, chop vegetables during at the Hoboken Shelter in Hoboken. N.J. on alternative spring break. (Photo courtesy of Fann)

Editor’s note: Over spring break, nine students from Fairleigh Dickinson University’s Metropolitan Campus donated their time and talent to the Hoboken Shelter and the HOPES Community Action Partnership in Hoboken, N.J. Volunteers Hanifa Addi, a senior studying psychology, and Yifan Shen, a junior studying electrical engineering, write about the experience, which was coordinated by the Office of Student Life.

By Hanifa Addi

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Student volunteers dish out hot, fresh meals at the Hoboken Shelter. (Photo courtesy of Timothy Fann)

Each day of service at the Hoboken Shelter began with tasks that included dining room preparation, dish washing, sorting and folding donated clothing, meal preparation and meal service. Over the three days, we dished out about 300 meals. On average, more men came through the shelter than women and the diversity in background of those who came for the shelter’s services was not what one would typically expect. Some were college educated with credentials from Rutgers University and Cornell Law School in Ithaca, N.Y. Others were service people, firefighters and former policemen, and I had the privilege of speaking with one former Marine. Others suffered a life-changing event that left them with nothing but their name and the clothing on their back. Many faces frequented the shelter over the three days we spent there, and though the atmosphere was reserved, there was still a feeling of intimacy among the people.

At dinner service each volunteer is positioned behind a food item set on a long steel table, announcements on upcoming government services or things to note, a round of applause for the volunteers, and then hats off for prayer. Meals are prepared fresh by a volunteer who is also a co-executive chef in a prominent New Jersey restaurant.

More than the cleaning, folding and serving, this trip confirmed the underlying connection I share with all who were in the shelter. I am no better than them; mutual respect existed among us. We all value being respected, look to have basic food, clothing, and shelter needs met, like having options in what we eat, and don’t like being judged negatively. I cry, grow anxious, wonder about the future, and experience setbacks. Like them I am a human being and regardless of what predicament life brings to any of us, our humanity will always remain. This trip ratified this life lesson and refreshed my view on where I belong in this world.

At HOPES Cap, Inc. we volunteered in all different ways: we did some light cleaning, spoke to high school freshmen about college, and interacted with children as they played Minecraft, a popular computer game. I saw the impact the FDU volunteers made. On the second day, we spoke to high school students about college and it was amazing. Thinking back, it was the college presentations set up by my high school that gave me the push to start considering college. Being given the opportunity to return the favor by doing something similar makes me feel like I brought something positive into the life of the next great athlete, architect, writer or singer.

On day three at HOPES the younger children taught us how to play Minecraft. Many of them took charge right away and disclosed important commands such as double tapping the space bar to fly and hiding at night to prevent attack from zombies. Simply allowing the young children to teach us promoted competency and self-esteem. One particular child I interacted with has Asperger’s syndrome, which occasionally made communicating with him and regulating his interaction with other students difficult. But, as opposed to labeling him as “difficult,” I applied more patience and treated him the same as every other child. As he left the session for the day he hugged me and we shared an inside joke from moments earlier.

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FDU volunteers Hanifa Addi, Gurdip Singh, Diana Bernal, Darrell Sutton, Yifan Shen, Timothy Fann, Manohar Lal and Nefertiti Adams pose Chef Q at the Hoboken Shelter. (Photo courtesy of Fann)

The alternative spring break was such an outstanding experience and easily takes its place among my most memorable college experiences. It showed me the type of person I am willing to be: more action-oriented, caring, selfless and devoted. I willingly serve others through community service projects because I care, and I will forever do so with gratitude.

By Yifan Shen

You and I may have a roof over our heads, clean clothes to wear and hot meals to eat. But, when you sit down comfortably to enjoy your dinner after a day at work or in school, do you ever think about how many people are homeless?

More than 60% of Americans are two paychecks away from being homeless. I learned that from a modest, homeless shelter kitchen chef named Q whom I was honored to meet on alternative spring break with FDU. It is not often that you get to spend your spring break so meaningfully; most people just go to the beach or go skiing. However, I was fortunate enough to be part of something unique and memorable.

Over the course of three days, my colleagues and I served and volunteered at a homeless shelter. It was a humbling experience helping out those who are less fortunate. I learned many valuable things and it made me realize that sometimes the smallest kind gestures can touch so many lives.

Also, we were able to guide the young adults at HOPES school in Hoboken, N.J. Knowing that we were affecting them in a positive way was so gratifying.

At the end of it all, I believe we received more than we gave back to the community. I couldn't think of a better way to have spent spring break.