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‘Lend an Ear’ promotes community service

| Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Saint Mary’s students launched the Lend An Ear initiative to establish a way for Belles to provide companionship to the local homeless population, Lend An Ear club president and senior Fernanda Amado said.

The initiative specifically connects Saint Mary’s students with the residents of Center for the Homeless, Amado said.

Amado said fellow senior Christina Porter sparked the idea for the club and the initiative.

“In our junior year we both took Professor [Terri] Russ’s public communication course,” Amado said. “Every Thursday, we would go to the Center and teach our residents about communication.  While there, we found that most of the residents wanted to share their experiences with us.  That is when Christina came up with the idea.”

Porter said she first became interested in Russ’s course when she learned she could teach communication concepts to residents of the Center for the Homeless, building on her experiences working with impoverished individuals during high school. She said her time in the class inspired her to create a student group.

“We noticed that the guests would sometimes use a lot of class time describing their experiences and the paths they have taken to end up at the Center.  It was apparent to us that they enjoyed us visiting and wanted to talk more,” Porter said. “We also realized that sometimes it can be hard for the guests to share their personal challenges and hardships with other guests because … others may not want to listen, because they too are burdened with problems.”

Porter said she and her classmates developed this volunteering initiative out of a desire to continue the companionship among Saint Mary’s students and Center residents fostered by her public communications course.

Russ said she is proud of her students and their work.

“This program provides a wonderful opportunity for students to provide meaningful service to the Center for the Homeless, while also learning that those who are homeless are more similar to us than dissimilar,” Russ said.

Amado said she feels an important take-away from her time volunteering at the Center is the realization that anyone can find themselves in a situation of poverty.

“It doesn’t just happen to those with addictions, most of them led ordinary lives,” Amado said. “But the really important thing to take way is that these are good people.  As a society we tend to stigmatize the homeless.  We don’t like to go near them or we think poorly of them because we have been conditioned to be weary of them.”

The structure of the initiative is centered on communication between the volunteers and the guests, Porter said.

“[The initiative] … is a way for us to be a secure outlet to talk about their lives and their daily struggles.  Our job is to ‘lend our ears’ and to be a friend to them.  It’s important to acknowledge that homelessness does not discriminate and people of all backgrounds can end up in a facility like the Center for the Homeless,” Porter said.

Amado said Lend An Ear volunteers must volunteer for at least one hour per week at South Bend’s Center for the Homeless, though more substantial time commitments are encouraged.

Students may sign up to participate on the Lend An Ear OrgSync page, Amado said.

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