Cardboard Connect Volunteer Testimony

On March 8-9, One Roof and YouthServe partnered to host our second annual Cardboard Connect. CBC gives local youth (aged 13-18) the opportunity to learn about issues related to homelessness and prepare hygiene kits for guests of Project Homeless Connect. This year, youth participated in a homelessness simulation called Cardboard City, constructed a cardboard house to sleep in for the night, and heard from a panel of formerly homeless persons, persons experiencing homelessness, and persons working in homeless services. During the event, we saw a real change in the way our youth participants and adult volunteers thought about issues related to homelessness.

Here’s a volunteer testimony from Kayla Bird, a student partnering with One Roof this semester through UAB’s Interprofessional Global Health Service Learning program:

“I had the amazing opportunity to volunteer at Cardboard Connect, and I had a fantastic time. I met so many people who were dedicated to learning about and serving the homeless, and got to hear personal stories about what it is truly like to experience homelessness.

Through this event, we experienced a day in the life of a homeless person, from a soup kitchen meal to building cardboard houses to act as shelter for the night. We participated in a simulation that taught the participants, as well as the adult volunteers, just how hard it is for those experiencing homelessness to acquire things such as three square meals a day, housing for the night, legal documents, and employment. The simulation also provided the participants with a chance to learn about subpopulations, and how different subpopulations have better chances of acquiring things than others. Cardboard City really allowed everyone involved to step into someone else’s shoes and really attempt to grasp the challenges these people actually face every day. It made me sad to learn just how easy it would be for a homeless person to lose hope in ever getting back on their feet again.

The panel of speakers, and the vigil held for the homeless individuals who had recently passed away, filled me with so much emotion and inspiration; I wanted to leave after the event and immediately start helping the homeless population of Birmingham. Through discussion in small groups, we were able to break down the stereotypes placed on those who are homeless, as well as come to the realization that homelessness can happen to anyone. It was humbling to know just how fortunate I am to know where I am going to sleep tonight, and that I am able to get a meal when I want one.

Towards the end of the evening, we participated in a service project, making hygiene kits for the upcoming Project Homeless Connect. We packed items in these kits that are essential for healthy living: items such as soap, toothbrushes, and tissues, which a lot of people today take for granted. This project was easy, quick, and will really be helpful for those who come to PHC. The participants were able to learn just how easy helping the homeless can be.

Overall, this experience really broadened my understanding of the homeless population. I feel like I can better help those experiencing homelessness because now I have seen and heard about some of the challenges they face, and I learned ways that I can help. I would recommend Cardboard Connect to everyone, and I will definitely volunteer again next year.”

Kayla is from Collierville, Tennessee, and she is a freshman Biology major in the Science and Technology Honors Program at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, aspiring to become a pediatric oncologist. Here’s what Kayla has to say about her experience partnering with One Roof this semester:

“Caring for people has always been something I have been passionate about; it was actually one of the major factors that led me to pursue medicine. This semester I had the privilege of taking part in a course at UAB that allowed me to directly interact with a community partner to help implement projects that would benefit the partner and the community as a whole. I was really excited to learn that I was assigned to One Roof, because although I did not know the extent of the work I would be doing over the semester, I knew I was going to help a population that I was genuinely curious about. I really wanted to challenge myself to push past any stereotypes against the homeless population built up by myself and those who surround me and gain a new perspective on the world. Homelessness was a common sight both in Memphis and in Birmingham, and it broke my heart. However, I was wary to lend a helping hand because I was unsure of how to approach these individuals and what to do to assist them. Over these past couple months, I not only have a deeper understanding of the struggles faced by those experiencing homelessness, but I have also gained the confidence I needed to reach out to these individuals and actually try to make a difference in their lives. This experience has helped me come to the realization that no matter your situation, race, religion, or gender, we are all human, and all humans deserve to be treated with kindness and respect. I hope that throughout my lifetime, I can not only remember the lessons I learn this semester, but also inspire those around me to break stereotypes and view the world from this humbling perspective.”

One Roof is dedicated to equipping and empowering our community to prevent and end homelessness through advocacy, education, and the coordination of services. We know that preventing and ending homelessness requires identifying and breaking negative stereotypes associated with persons experiencing homelessness in our community. We are committed to educating our community about issues related to homelessness, and Cardboard Connect is one of several educational opportunities that we offer throughout the year. Click here to support our educational efforts, then read about how you can help end homelessness in our area by volunteering at Project Homeless Connect.


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