Over the past year, ASDA has had increasing involvement with the Comitis Shelter, a shelter near campus that houses individuals and families. Since beginning our involvement with the shelter, I’ve been surprised to learn more about the causes of homelessness and the statistics of those that are affected. For example, did you know there are over 14,000 homeless children in Colorado? As the holidays approach, giving back to our local community becomes increasingly important and your help can truly make a difference for a family in need. One of the most crucial steps to helping is to become educated about individuals experiencing homelessness and to deconstruct misperceptions. During our first time volunteering at Comitis, I met a veteran currently undergoing chemotherapy at the Anschutz campus. Because of the intensive treatment, he’s unable to work and is residing at the shelter with his two young daughters. This gentleman, among others, represents one of the real reasons that a majority of these individuals are homeless. Sickness happens. Job loss happens. Death happens. Divorce happens. Sometimes people experience tough times.
My mentor, Dr. Bruce, inspired me years ago to take on a giving attitude as a dental student and eventual practitioner. In addition to running a successful practice, Dr. Bruce and his wife volunteer at a local shelter once a week to provide dental care to those in need. His goal is to provide emotional and spiritual guidance in addition to dental care to enable people to live a better life. I’ve witnessed the personal transformations and success stories of those that Dr. Bruce has worked with and have been inspired to continue this act of giving now, and throughout my career.
How can we, as students, make a difference in the lives of others? In addition to providing dental education, there are several ways we can give back. Below are 5 ways you can help from justgive.org this holiday season and throughout the year. Visit https://www.justgive.org/donations/help-homeless.jsp for a full list of ideas for involvement!
- Volunteer at a shelter - Shelters thrive on the work of volunteers, from those who sign people in, to those who serve meals, to others who counsel the homeless on where to get social services. For the homeless, a shelter can be as little as a place to sleep out of the rain, or as much as a step toward self-sufficiency.
- Tutor homeless children - A tutor can make all the difference. Just having adult attention can spur children to do their best. Many programs exist in shelters, transitional housing programs, and schools that require interested volunteers. Or begin you own tutor volunteer corps at your local shelter. It takes nothing more than a little time.
- Donate clothing - Next time you do your spring or fall cleaning, keep an eye out for those clothes that you no longer wear. If these items are in good shape, gather them together and donate them to organizations that provide housing for the homeless.
- Donate toys – Children living in shelters have few possessions --if any-- including toys. Homeless parents have more urgent demands on what little money they have, such as food and clothing. So often these children have nothing to play with and little to occupy their time. You can donate toys, books, and games to family shelters to distribute to homeless children. For Christmas or Chanukah, ask your friends and co-workers to buy and wrap gifts for homeless children.
- Teach about the homeless - If you do volunteer work with the homeless, you can become an enthusiast and extend your enthusiasm to others. You can infect others with your own sense of devotion by writing letters to the editor of your local paper.
This year, I’ve been fortunate to work alongside so many good hearted and compassionate individuals dedicated to making a positive difference in our community. During our school wide warm clothing donation drive for our local shelter, hundreds of students and faculty donated warm clothing and helped spread the word to local organizations. The DS1 students even raised enough money to purchase nearly 30 coats for the shelter! Colorado winters are rough and it was great to see so many students work together to help keep people warm this winter.
It’s the season of giving and now is the perfect time to give back and help families in need. Check out this website to learn more about facts and statistics of those experiencing homelessness and email me if you’d like to get involved! http://closetohomeco.org/learn/about-homelessness/