Union High School senior Josie Arens’ dream of hosting a homelessness simulation event will come to fruition this Friday night.
After months of planning, organizing and executing tasks, The Road Home will take place at the UHS football field through Saturday morning. The simulation will include sleeping unsheltered on the football field overnight, as well as a mock soup kitchen, keynote speakers, charity booths and service projects like making fleece blankets, planting tomato and pepper plants for the food pantry to distribute, and packaging quick, dry ingredient meals for those in need.
There also will be a benefit breakfast Saturday morning, April 22, from 7-10:30 a.m. in the UHS cafeteria. Meals are $7 for adults and $5 for children 12 and younger.
Started in Class
The event, which started out as a project for her Innovative and Project-Based Learning class, began early in the school year.
In class, students are challenged to work on a complex problem, research needs, and create a solution and an action plan.
They are encouraged to reach out to professionals and community members in executing their project.
“I’ve grown up doing different service projects,” Arens said, adding that she didn’t realize homelessness was prevalent in this area.
She started reaching out to local nonprofits that target homelessness and poverty, like the Agape House in St. Clair, Foundations for Franklin County, the Franklin County Homelessness Task Force, Franklin County Area United Way and others.
And from there, the event started taking form.
“Our community is beyond supportive,” Arens said. “We have boxes upon boxes of food and personal care items, $7,000 worth of donations businesses and individuals have donated. Everyone wants to do something to help.”
About 50 people will stay the night on the football field. Another 30 will start the night with the group and leave at 11 p.m.
“I’m excited to see how it will all pan out,” Arens said. “I’m excited to see how the service projects and activities we do turn out so we know how to tweak them and make them better next year.”
Arens said she has learned a lot throughout the event.
There is a strong mindset that “I’m working to pay my way, they need to, too,” she said.
“I think what this project is about is showing people that these individuals may not have been taught the same mindset... or they may have the same mindset, but they can’t access the resources or don’t know they exist. They don’t feel there is any hope for them,” she said.
From an organizational standpoint, she said the event is about altering people’s mind set that they have toward homelessness and homeless peoples’ mindset they have in feeling they have no future.
Several area organizations are helping with the event. The Lions Club is staffing the mock kitchen. The Union Kiwanis Club is providing volunteers and the Union Rotary Club is helping with the benefit breakfast.
Arens said the community and school district have been supportive.
“Anything I ask, they are more than willing to help me with,” she said.
For tickets to the breakfast, visit theroadhomeevent.com and click on the blue block that reads “Homelessness Awareness Event,” and then click the green “tickets” tab.
For more information, people can contact Arens at firstname.lastname@example.org or 636-583-3062.
Arens has a project blog at missourihomelessness.blogspot.com.