Note: Today’s article is from Kayla, one of our summer interns. Feel free to welcome her in the comments section!
“Excuse me, can you spare me some change?” I quickly shook my head, rolled up my window, and drove on. These encounters were infrequent, but were always unsettling for me. Coming from the heart of the Orange County, just an hour south of Los Angeles, I had never seen much homelessness before. I had always been told to ignore them and move on. Up until my first missions trip to Los Angeles, I had never even thought to question it. When I had my first real encounter with someone experiencing homelessness, I was so surprised to find that they were just like me. A lot of the images and perceptions I assumed about homelessness were different from those that I saw. There were women and children sleeping along the curb, businessmen in the soup kitchens, high-spirited men staying in the shelters, all challenging what I knew as homelessness. Since then, I’ve volunteered at shelters, soup kitchens, clothing closets, foot clinics, and other homeless service centers, but even as a volunteer, I could never quite understand how I could make a lasting difference.
I am currently a rising junior at Emory University, just a short twenty minute drive from the Gateway Center. I first volunteered at the Gateway Center through an event at Emory, where I painted the men’s facilities for the day. Although I had worked with multiple homeless service agencies in Atlanta before, this organization was completely different for me. There was a far greater emphasis on awareness and understanding of homelessness, rather than a service experience. When I saw that the Emory Ethics and Servant Leadership program offered internships for the summer, I immediately sought one related to homelessness. I thought that an internship would give me more insight and direction for my personal development in ending homelessness. The Gateway Center has been partnering with Emory University through this internship program for two years prior. After applying, I was ecstatic to know that I was accepted into the program, and that I would be able to learn from a professional perspective.
Since I’ve been here I’ve been challenged in my own perceptions of homelessness. Although I felt like an expert coming in, I’m being humbled and exposed to larger and greater issues at hand. My perception of volunteerism and service has been changing, and I’m starting to see the actual needs of organizations. It’s been a chaotic first month, but always transformative and insightful.
Kayla Pak is a second year student at Emory University, where she studies Mathematics and Economics. She was born and raised in Orange County, the heart of Southern California. Since she has come to Atlanta, she has been involved with multiple service projects, most of which pertain to the issue of homelessness. Within the first two years at the University, she has worked with Metro Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless and Open Door Community. Through her involvement in Volunteer Emory, she has been able to facilitate volunteer events for Emory students and alumni. In addition to these projects, she has participated in multiple student organizations and events such as Leadershape and Outdoor Emory.
Last year over 4,400 unique persons stayed at Gateway Center in their journey towards self-sufficiency and out of homelessness. $10 provides meals for a day for one of these men, women, and children. Make a donation today.