Trinity University is launching an effort to combine classroom learning, helping the homeless, and campus residential life. Katie Ogawa, the student who organized HOPE Hall, which starts this school year, said a group of about 30 students from different majors will live together in the same residence hall and volunteer together at partnering organizations focused on helping the homeless community in San Antonio.
"I think that the idea came about really because we were passionate about service, and we wanted to make that more of a key component — an option, I guess — for people to further dedicate some of their time to service and also to have that community. Because we live on campus for three years, being able to live with people that you are also serving with is really powerful," Ogawa said.
Ogawa, who is starting as a junior at the university this fall, said that she started working on this endeavor at the end of her first year at Trinity and has spent more than a year setting it up, an effort that has included working with Trinity staff, volunteer organizations, and students. "We were all able to have this discussion about what do we want students to get out of this, what do we want them to walk away knowing, what do we need to give them, what tools do we need to give them for these service experiences," Ogawa said.
Edwin Blanton works in Trinity's department of Campus and Community Involvement connecting students to opportunities to serve their community, and he has been working with Ogawa and other students to set up this project since its beginning. "Besides just having a student organization, they kind of wanted to go outside the box for something besides an organization, like a living-learning community. So, essentially, where they can live in the halls and eat and breathe and learn about something. And they did so on the social issue of homelessness."
Some of the organizations partnering with HOPE Hall are SAMMinistries, Haven for Hope, and Catholic Workers House.
The classroom aspect of the project will manifest as a first-year seminar — classes held in no particular academic department and including at most 15 first-year students. The HOPE Hall seminar will be co-taught in the spring semester by Blanton and Dr. Robert Blystone, a professor from the biology department who has been at Trinity since 1971.
"I grew up in an area where a lot of people did not have shoes," Blystone said. "When I started school many many years ago, two children in my kindergarten, public school kindergarten, had no shoes. Today, that's inconceivable. I've always been touched by that. It just resonated: something wasn't right. That's one of the reasons I got involved"
Both Blystone and Blanton said that they were glad that the project coursework will not start until 2013. "One of the benefits of the spring is it gives them the fall semester to be out in the community. So whenever they step into our course in January, they already have exposure to homelessness in San Antonio and can bring that into the classroom," Blanton said
HOPE Hall's goals for its first year are modest. They include to "learn safety and etiquette related to serving the homeless community" and to "be familiar with organizations concerning homelessness in San Antonio."
The group hopes to expand its scope, however, and wants to begin an internship opportunity with Haven for Hope and create independent study opportunities for Trinity students if the project has a successful start.