As an agency dedicated to eradicating homelessness, the Urban Ministry Center of Charlotte has been working to provide basic services to those in need for nearly 20 years. We understand, however, that our duty is not just to those experiencing homelessness, but also to the entire community. While volunteerism is the most prominent way we engage the community, education also serves as a vital component of our proclaimed duty to others.
Just a few years after the center opened in 1994, educational opportunities had their first sprouting. Executive director, Dale Mullenix, created the first curriculum and, with the support of staff and interns, the vision continued to grow. The center has now managed to increase the types of community education available, providing experiences for groups of all ages and demographics. Just this past year, two very thought-provoking exercises were created to foster a sense of what our neighbors go through in their lives and on a day-to-day basis. “My Name is Rachel” is a discussion-based activity that, using the true story of one of our neighbors, examines the responsibility we have to help others in need. “Walk in My Shoes” promotes empathy through a walking simulation in which participants visit neighboring agencies frequented by our neighbors.
In addition, a brand-new workshop has been introduced by Paul Hanneman. “Framework for Understanding Chronic Homelessness” is a 2-hour workshop that examines assumptions about homelessness and shares strategies for ending homelessness. This powerful session is similar to “Bridges Out of Poverty” in that it introduces each participant to their own place in the community and initiates ways to bridge gaps between those of us who need help and those who can offer it.
Through education, others have come to understand the stark realization that homelessness is much more than an individual issue, but also a societal one. Congregations, student organizations and business groups are given the opportunity to find answers to questions that are often swept under the rug by the community.
To increase consistency and provide better advocacy opportunities, we are currently recruiting volunteers to facilitate upcoming exercises. I have come to realize the power of the efforts of our volunteers. They understand that we cannot do what we do without them. Giving them the opportunity to educate the rest of the community only solidifies their belief in what we do. It provides them with the power to alleviate misconceptions about poverty and homelessness that they may have once had themselves.
The Urban Ministry Center books exercises both on and off-site any day of the year, and encourages interested community members to inquire more about how to get involved! Thanks to the efforts of past and current staff members, we have managed to reach out to over 17,000 people through education alone. That number continues to grow with each exercise.
No experience is required to volunteer at the Urban Ministry Center. For more information about our Community Education Programs, or to sign up your group for an educational experience, email Paul Hanneman today.