By Kalilah Jamall, Better Together @ UNF Co-President and Interfaith Center Student Assistant
The Interfaith Center and Better Together @ UNF collaborated in a service project to the Sulzbacher Center, a transitioning center that provides services to people experiencing homelessness. We planned a game night where university students and staff led residents through four different games so that residents could participate in something fun and unique. For one night students with different religious and non-religious backgrounds, from Secular Humanists to Pagans, Christians to Spiritual but not religious students, to the presidents of the Muslim Student Association and the Jewish Student Union, came together to utilize their faith (meaning-making processes) to host a night of fun.
I have participated in all kinds of service projects throughout my years at the university I had the pleasure of doing an alternative spring break program called Ospreys In Action that focused on the issue of homelessness. My 2014 spring break was spent in Washington, D.C. learning extensively on the community of those experiencing homelessness. The trip included everything from service projects to workshops, t panel discussions to lobbying politically on the behalf of social organizations that work to provide services to those experiencing homelessness.
Until this project, I have never participated in a service project that I connected with in a way similar to the Ospreys In Action program. At the Sulzbacher Center, it was my job to lead the icebreakers during the game night, and I knew the anxiety and fear that came from interacting with a community that has a certain level of stigma attached to it. I reflected on my time in Washington, D.C., where I had to be really intentional in breaking through my own personal stigmas and stereotypes. I knew I had to be the one to knock down the wall created by the fear of the unknown that comes with associating with anyone for the first time. I could have never predicted that the residents of the Sulzbacher Center would have not only embraced in our service project, but shared many personal thoughts and details of their lives with us throughout the night. What a night is was, too!
Of the four game stations, I spent my time at the table playing charades. Now I have played some crazy intense games of charades – but the 6Sulzbacher residents that joined me and my fellow students were literally some of the funniest men I have ever met in my life. There was a point during the game where I could no longer sit up straight because my laughter had me leaning on the table for support. It was such a comfortable atmosphere these men didn’t even feel like strangers. I felt like I was at a party with my uncles, and we had reached the point in the night where rules didn’t matter and maybe we’ve had a bit too much to drink. The residents at my table had many stories, too. One man worked at the Pentagon for a few years, others were fathers or military workers. There was one man that had taught all over Asia and spoke multiple languages, and another who had traveled all Europe and gave me some really fantastic advice about my own desire to travel the world.
This was an experience I would have not had if not for the UNF Interfaith Center and Better Together @ UNF. It is opportunities such as these which involve more direct interaction with people experiencing homelessness – a community of people so stigmatized and looked down upon – which humanizes them and makes us see that together we are all just people. The only reason I no longer find the negativity associated with the community of those experiencing homelessness to be true is because of service projects like this. Only this time, I didn’t have to go on a costly (though worth it!) week-long trip to Washington, D.C. I just had to be a university student, with a free Thursday night, and a desire to play charades.
And I always have the desire to play charades.