Barton Students Experience New York From A Different Perspective

Billions of dollars are spent on entertainment, shopping, and food each year in New York City, arguably the most recognized city of the world. During the week of March 2 – 8, six students and two staff members from Barton College: Courtney Bennett, Chelsea Hassell, Kathi Shaner, Mary Taylor, Haley Todaro, Kevin Toth, Chaplain Jamie Eubanks and Campus Health Nurse Dianne Stallings, set out to experience New York, but their agenda did not include the obvious tourist spots. Instead, they chose to see NYC through the eyes of those whose life decisions are much harder than choosing what play to see or in what restaurant to dine.

In the boroughs of Brooklyn, Manhattan, and the Bronx, the Barton group met NYC residents facing the hardship of homelessness and hunger. And then, they found ways to serve these new acquaintances, working side by side with members of organizations such as Loaves and Fishes Ministries, We Care Soup Kitchen, CAMBA, and Operation Exodus.

“We were invited to work with Loaves and Fishes Ministries and We Care Soup Kitchen, both of which provide meals to the homeless and hungry every day,” shared Jamie. “We assisted CAMBA in the laundry mat, washing and folding bed linens to be placed in the Women’ Shelter; and we worked with after school programs like Operation Exodus, tutoring children in writing and math. Wherever we went, whether it was serving food to those on the street or playing kickball with inner city youth, we set about cultivating relationships with acts of kindness and love.”

Even in the midst of snow and blustery winds, the week flew by with project after project. The Barton group began sharing lessons learned. Here are just a few.

“My experience in New York was definitely interesting,” Haley explained. “I learned a lot about New York and the poverty/homeless level, but I also learned a lot about myself. Serving others was an eye-opening experience. We were serving the hungry, not the homeless; because not all New Yorkers we encountered were homeless. I am proud of the fact that we showed each individual we encountered a smile and God’s love. I am so blessed to have had this opportunity.”

Diane described the week in New York as an awesome experience. “The Barton College team arrived on Sunday full of excitement and ready to minister,” she shared. “Monday started with one and half inches of fresh snow and cold bitter winds. However, with the leadership of our CSM host, we completed a prayer walk of the New York City boroughs in which we would serve. Tuesday through Friday, we served in various roles: feeding the hungry, working in an after school care program for underprivileged children, and assisting within one of the largest homeless shelter centers available. The challenges stretched us and moved us way out of our comfort zone…I was humbled. Every single person, be it a student, a site host or a recipient of our volunteer efforts, had his or her own story, his or her own problems and his or her successes. I have deduced that, in the midst of poverty and despair, there also is beauty and hope.”

This trip to New York City was Kathi’s second alternative spring break trip while at Barton. It was also her third time traveling to NYC, but she explained that she had set aside her past tourist experiences in New York; Kathi wanted to focus on how she could help others during this trip. “Personally, this trip opened up my eyes in many ways,” she continued. “Yes, I was out of my comfort zone, but I gained a lot of experience and knowledge. My favorite parts of the trip were working in the soup kitchens and being able to share meals with such a variety of people. My passion is helping people, and that’s exactly what we did in New York City.”

The work in the soup kitchens also hit home for Kevin. “If I had to choose the experience that touched me the most, it was the two soup kitchens where we worked, Loaves and Fishes and We Care,” Kevin noted. “Feeding people food, for me, was the easy part; but I had trouble socializing with the people who came in. I have trouble trying to create small talk with people I know, let alone complete strangers. But once I conquered my anxiety, I talked to two separate people (each at a different soup kitchen), and they shared their stories with me. One was a man named Vinnie. He came in briefly because he was a delivery man of some sort and had to travel around Manhattan to make a living. The other person was a woman named Mary. She has worked her whole life as a nurse, but she had lost her job at a local pharmacy in New York. As each person shared their personal histories with me, I realized that it wasn’t just the food that people came in for, but also for the conversation.” Kevin further explained that he believed these individuals and, others whom they met, wanted to be recognized as human beings just like everyone else, and though they were suffering hardships that many couldn’t understand, they wanted and appreciated being treated with kindness and respect. “There is a huge misconception about people who are homeless and how they are homeless because of their own life choices. Well, that isn’t the case. There are so many people who fall through the cracks in our society, and, during this trip, I met two of them: Mary and Vinnie. My hope is that I will have the opportunity to reach out to help other individuals who are suffering, and not just reach out to help but also to get to know each one by his or her name.”

“Experience brings with it understanding,” Jamie added. “By the end of the week, our tour of New York not only made us more aware of the needs and issues in the city, but also gave us a heart to serve our own community better when we returned home.”