Today our group went to Charlie’s Place, an establishment where homeless people can go to eat breakfast and get clothes that they need. All articles of clothing had been donated, and the food is prepared fresh daily. The establishment is run by a man named John, a man who was once homeless and came to Charlie’s Place as someone seeking food and clothes. He began helping clean up afterwards, and eventually worked his way up to become manager. Before breakfast, we were in charge of getting the clothes that people requested, and it quickly became apparent that there was a serious lack of men’s shirts, pants, and shoes. While people ate their “pre-breakfast”, we spread out among them and had genuine conversations with them. Next we served breakfast to people, staying to serve seconds, thirds, and even fourths, watching as a few people placed breakfast items into bags for later. We then went back to the pilgrimage to rest and pack lunches to bring to people in DuPont Circle. In DuPont Circle, there was no shortage of people in need of lunches, and within minutes we had exhausted all of our bagged lunches. While giving out lunches, we were able to meet and make relationships with new people. We also encountered a few people who we had seen getting breakfast at Charlie’s Place and even a man who had served alongside us. While we were on this adventure, the other two work groups worked together at Washington Parks and People, helping out the community around Marvin Gaye Park.
Originally, Watt’s Park had grass taller than 5 feet and had the highest crime rate of national parks. Washington Parks and People made it their goal to restore the park. Armed with jackets, flashlights, and a smile, they took on the task of making the park safe again. After seeing success and significantly reducing crime rates, the organization spread to other parks in the city and now has over 40,000 volunteers every year working to continue keeping the parks safe. While working, we saw many friendly faces excited that we were improving the area. Our jobs included picking up the abundant garbage scattered around the park and river and weed whacking/trimming bushes and trees. We only had the time to cover a small area of a large park but the work that we did made a difference in the cleanliness and quality of a place that people in the community walk through everyday.
After both groups returned to The Pilgrimage and ate lunch, a group from Ohio and us participated in a poverty simulation run by the Pilgrimage. In one hour we went through one month in the life of families in poverty. Each family was different in dealing with their own problems because of medical, educational and financial challenges. We quickly realized the amount of stress put on a family who makes very little and needs to pay for food, clothing, mortgage, utilities, loans and transportation expenses. After the debrief, we learned that only one family was able to pay for everything in full out of the twelve participating families. We learned that it is hard to get out of poverty because while support services exist, people are often unaware of them or have no extra time or transportation to access them. We also experienced the domino effect of one bad thing causing every other area of life to rapidly go down.
After dinner tonight we are excited to go on a walk to the Obama’s neighborhood (only a 1/2 mile from where we are staying).