Sixty students from Mary Hembrow-Snyder’s, Ph.D., Christology classes recently worked along side Service Learning Office to provide home-cooked meals for the residents of the Emergency Homeless Shelter and the Lodge on Sassafras Street as part of the Community Shelter Services program in Erie.
The service projects took place on Oct. 23, 24, 29 and 31 this year. The projects have been going on for over 10 years now, and have taken place through various classes.
The project is geared toward the actual practice of what the students learn in class. It helps to make concrete and realize the theories and lessons of Jesus which the students learn in the classroom. The idea sprouted from a conversation between Hembrow-Snyder and Sister Michelle Shroeck.
“We were trying to find a way to give the students some experience of working with people in Erie who for one or another reasons who were disadvantaged,” said Hembrow-Snyder.
“We just started doing it, and we did not know what we were doing.”
The students provided the drive to keep the project going, according to Hembrow-Snyder.
Although they were originally hesitant to do it, eventually they “were so glad they did,” Hembrow-Snyder said.
The entire project was student-run, with small groups planning everything from the menu to the decorations to cooking and serving the meal to the residents of the shelters.
The most important piece of the project, according to Hembrow-Snyder, is that the students “sit down as equals with people who are looked down upon as ‘the Other’ by many people in the city of Erie.”
For some students, it was the first time they had ever been in contact with people at that level of poverty and marginalization.
The management of the project has also shifted to include Bethany Brun, the Service Learning Coordinator, and Colin Hurley, the Community Outreach Director. Brun has been working with the project for the past four years.
One of the aspects she has seen most is the positive outreach the project does for the university.
“They absolutely love when we come,” said Brun. “Mercyhurst is very well represented. And the clients [at the shelter] are very grateful.”
Projects like this, involving large amounts of people, are not without difficulties.
“You’re going to run into the issues of a group of students working together,” said Brun. “Within the group project, you are going to run into the dynamics. You’re going to get a couple of leaders and everyone else kind of following along. Some people are going to choose to put in a little more effort than others.”
Claire Edmunds, a senior, was one of the team leaders for the project, and helped organize one of the meals at the Emergency Shelter.
The benefits of the project, for her, were directed toward its ability to break down barriers between people.
“I think it gave the students a chance to better connect with a group of people that they probably don’t get to speak with much, or interact with much,” said Edmunds. “I think I saw a lot of attitudes change towards the issue of homelessness in general.”
“It makes me wish I had taken Dr. Hembrow-Snyder’s class,” said Brun. As an Americorps VISTA and coordinator of Service Learning, working with poverty and poverty reduction, she sees these events as “a great way to see a need and meet a need.”