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challenging our perceptions of poverty

High School student, Helena Farrell, shares a reflection after having participated in an immersion program with JOIN, one of JVC Northwest’s partner agencies in Portland, OR.  This year the immersion program is coordinated and facilitated by JV AmeriCorps Member Alli Gabbert (Gresham, OR ’12-13).

Going to Pope John Paul II High School, I’ve been exposed to a lot of new opportunities and have juggled a busy college prep schedule. However, there is always room for one thing in my life: service. My teachers stress the importance of community service–so much so that we have an entire class devoted to it–and my classmates and I go out into the wide world of Lacey, Washington to serve in a variety of different settings. However, there is always a longing for something more; something tangible and involved that will leave us all a little wiser.

The answer to this longing came to my class in the form of JOIN’s Immersion program in Portland, Oregon. The immersion was a two-day event that only required us to bring a sleeping bag and the clothes on our backs.

Before I left for Portland, I thought a lot about what the experience would be like. Certainly, nobody I met who is sleeping outside would appreciate some entitled rich kid asking them questions and pretending to understand them. I would never know what it felt like to be in their position–to really feel the pain and struggle of living out on the streets. So why go?

First, I wanted to challenge my own perception of homelessness. I’ve always been told that people experiencing homelessness were undeserving of my time and money. I knew even before going on the immersion that those things were not true.  But in order to completely challenge my own preconceived ideas I needed to engage with the homeless community personally, see the services available to them, and to hear their stories firsthand.

Second, I knew from my three years at JPII High School that service is vital to our community and to communities around the world. At the immersion, we knew we would be meeting folks on the streets who needed a meal or just a companion to eat with. My peers and I did these things gladly. Not everyone we encountered appreciated a gaggle of naive kids trying to talk with them, and that’s understandable. However, while I was expecting to be  received coldly by everyone I interacted with, I was actually welcomed into many conversations. That alone was enough to shatter my perceptions of the those experiencing homelessness.

I left the immersion with both a better understanding of vulnerable populations who live on the margins of society, as well as a hunger to continue to engage in service. It was undoubtedly a rich experience that I’m sure I will be participating in again soon.

 To learn more about JOIN’s immersion program or to plan an immersion for your group, visit http://www.joinpdx.com/Immersion.html

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