By Lesa Thompson
A group of 24 students from Natchitoches Central traveled to Shreveport Friday, Dec. 13 to participate in a service learning project. Students delivered blankets, toiletries, coats, washcloths and towels, laundry detergent, hygiene kits and other items to HOPE Connections Homeless Day Shelter, as well as giving nonperishable food items to Christian Service Hospitality House.
Students handed out items to HOPE Connections’ clients and spent time talking and listening to those they met. Many of the clientele were happy to interact with the young people and share their stories and advice with them.
“Giving to others what they cannot get for themselves gave me a joy like no other,” senior Raionna Oliphant said. “One of the most meaningful things you can do is listen to someone else’s story.”
By donating time as well as money, the students saw that homelessness is a problem anyone can experience due to circumstances beyond anyone’s control.
“Going to the shelter taught me that these people are just like me,” senior Kaylie Delacerda said. “We all go through hardships that can cause us to end up in different places.”
Before handing out goods and talking with clients, the students took a tour of HOPE Connections facilities and participated in a Q&A session with staff members. Students learned about the myriad reasons people find themselves homeless, as well as the services available to help and the areas where large populations of homeless people in Northwest Louisiana tend to live.
“This trip was an eye-opening experience for me,” freshman Emma Giddens said. “It made me realize that a lot of people, even people my age, won’t wake up in a warm home or open any presents this Christmas. Some people’s eye lit up when we handed them even small items like deodorant and it taught me not to take things for granted.”
The students who participated in this field-based learning activity have expressed a desire to return to HOPE Connections and to continue to do their part for others.
“I hope that everyone takes time out of their lives to help others who are less fortunate than themselves,” freshman Caleb Weaver said. “This was a very impactful experience for me, and seeing the gratitude of the people we helped made me feel good because I could see the joy we were bringing to others.”
High school students do not have to wait until they graduate and become adults before they can see a problem and do something about it.
“It’s important for my students to know that they have the power to do good,” English teacher Lesa Thompson said. “Maybe none of us has the ability to change the entire world, but each of us has the ability to change at least one person’s world for the better, and that’s what we set out to do. Based on the feedback I got from my kids, and from the staff and clientele at HOPE Connections, we definitely accomplished that mission.”