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.


Help End Homelessness: Volunteer at Project Homeless Connect

Spring is almost here; our neighborhoods are full of jonquils and the red bud trees are coming alive. I think it is safe to say that there will be only a few more days that require layers of wool coats and down jackets.

We have had a rough winter. While Snowmageddon and the Wintry Mix are less-than-pleasant recollections for anyone who spent multiple hours trapped on the roads in January, there is much to be said for the touching memory of our community pulling together to tow friends, neighbors and complete strangers from ditches; of exhausted teachers staying in inaccessible schools to keep the iced-in students safe; and of the outpouring of clothing, food, blankets, hygiene items and love for citizens in our City’s warming center at the Boutwell Auditorium.  Yes, I said “love.” Members of our community who have never met someone experiencing homelessness were moved by the plight of Birmingham citizens with no heat, no water and no bed to call their own.

The various churches, civic groups, nonprofits and individuals felt like the frigid temperatures of Snowmageddon constituted a crisis; they all felt that they MUST do something about the problem. That feeling of urgency, that recognition of a crisis, spurred them to volunteer and to donate, to step outside of themselves to help others. I am grateful to live in a community that has this kind of concern and love for all citizens, including those experiencing homelessness. However, I wonder what we could do if we didn’t wait for a crisis?

What would happen if all of the faith-based organizations, civic groups, nonprofits and individuals pooled resources to work on specific issues that contribute to homelessness, to solve problems that make people homeless, and to eliminate barriers that keep them homeless? Does it sound too good to be true that people of all faiths, races and socio-economic levels could play well together?  That happened with the Warming Station, and that was primarily about homelessness. Project Homeless Connect is coming up on April 5th, and it is 100% about homelessness, and is a model of what happens when people collaborate to address homelessness.

Project Homeless Connect is a one day annual event designed to provide services to people in homelessness – services that a person needs to get out of homelessness. This event is a partnership between the City of Birmingham, One Roof, Hands On Birmingham and United Way, but there are more than 65 agencies, businesses and organizations that collaborate to make the event successful. There are event leaders, but everyone works together with one plan and with one goal – – provide what homeless people need to get themselves permanently out of homelessness. All of the organizers pool their resources, make plans collaboratively, and work shoulder-to-shoulder the day of the event to make Project Homeless Connect successful.

We have seen our community’s amazing response to the 60+ hours of below-freezing weather. What could happen if the community worked collaboratively to pool resources, to make collaborative plans, and to work shoulder-to-shoulder to prevent the need for a Warming Station? If you would like to see a one-day answer to this question, volunteer to work at Project Homeless Connect by signing up at Hands On Birmingham to be a Smiling Face on April 5, 2014. If you are moved, fascinated and enlightened by what you experience at PHC on April 5, 2014, consider getting involved with One Roof, the agency that works daily to bring all the right resources, all the right people and all the right answers to our community to fulfill our mission of equipping and empowering our community to end homelessness through advocacy, education and coordination of services.

SnowMageddon was a crisis. Our community responded. The 1,469 people homeless on any given night in our area constitute a crisis. Help One Roof respond to homelessness by volunteering at Project Homeless Connect on April 5, 2014.


Michelle Farley is the Executive Director of One Roof. 


Why We’re Here

As you may remember, One Roof partnered with students from UAB’s Inter-professional Global Health Service Learning program last semester to pilot a vulnerability survey in three of our member agencies that provide emergency shelter. The pilot and our partnership with UAB’s IGHSL program reflect our mission to equip and empower our community to prevent and end homelessness through advocacy, education, and the coordination of services. The information we gathered allowed us to better understand the vulnerability of our emergency shelter population, to know how many of these folks are living with serious, yet treatable or manageable health conditions that might cause irreparable damage or death without appropriate treatment and care. The more we know about persons experiencing homelessness in our area, the better we are able to advocate, educate, and coordinate services to meet their needs.

We strive to take every opportunity to equip and empower our community, and this means finding new resources and new community partners. We know that our efforts to prevent and end homelessness are not as visible as they could be. We need more community members to know what we’re doing to prevent and end homelessness and why we’re doing it. Increased support allows us to pursue more projects like the vulnerability survey pilot. These projects allow us to more effectively achieve our mission, and to research and implement tools and practices that will increase the stability of our community members. We will not stop furthering our mission until everyone in our community has a safe, decent, and affordable home, and we need more community support to do this.

One Roof is partnering with a new group of IGHSL students this semester to research ways to increase visibility of our efforts. Our goal: to be more transparent about what we do and gain the support of more service providers, organizations, businesses, concerned citizens, and community members like you. Our students, April, Macy, Caitlin, Jawanza, and Kayla, have shown us that in order to gain more support, we must educate our community and challenge pervasive stereotypes of people experiencing homelessness. We must show our community that each person experiencing homelessness is a person first, not their housing status, mental illness, disabling condition, HIV diagnosis, history of substance abuse, history of domestic violence, veteran status, or any other experience or condition that may have caused them to experience homelessness.

We must show our community that each person deserves stability and a safe, decent, and affordable place to call home. We must take every opportunity to advocate and educate. And we do. And we will. One Roof regularly provides educational opportunities for our members, including workshops like Homelessness 101 (offered quarterly) and Transgender 101 (offered last fall after repeated requests from various members), and guest speakers covering issues related to youth, veterans, domestic violence survivors, inclusive policies, and more at our monthly membership meetings. Our second annual Cardboard Connect, an event for youth ages 13-18 intended to raise awareness of homelessness in our community, is happening this weekend.

We believe that education is necessary to equip and empower members of our community to help us prevent and end homelessness. We have a wealth of knowledge about homelessness in our area, and we want to share it. We want to use this knowledge to help some of the most vulnerable folks in our area.

We recently offered a Homelessness 101 workshop for our IGHSL students to further educate them about homelessness in our area, as well as show them first-hand one of our many efforts to achieve our mission. It’s clear to us that we’ve educated, equipped, and empowered our student partners in a meaningful way:

“This class was a fantastic resource to become more aware of, knowledgeable to, and prepared for serving the overall homeless population, not only in the Birmingham area but also on the state and national level.” -April

“I was shocked about some of the information…such as, in Jefferson County there are approximately 1469 individuals without stable housing. This information was collected by the Point in Time census that occurs every year. I probably would have never known that information if it weren’t for this presentation.” -Jawanza

“The goal when helping any population of people is to make sure they feel as comfortable and as safe as possible, and this workshop teaches you how you can best meet these needs.” -Kayla

“…I believe it is necessary to break such stereotypes when given the chance, and one of the best ways to start this process is by being educated on the topic. That is…why I found One Roof’s workshop presentation on ‘Homelessness 101’ to be invaluable.” -Macy

“Everybody has a story, a reason for the situation they are in, and why they are the way that they are.” -Caitlin

We believe that each person in our community deserves stability and a safe, decent, and affordable home. This belief drives everything we do; it’s why we’re here. Preventing and ending homelessness is a community effort, and we cannot do this without you. Your support allows us to advocate, educate, and coordinate services in the best and most effective way. Together we can make a positive and sustainable change in our community: we can prevent and end homelessness. Click here to support our efforts and learn more about One Roof.


Josh Helms is an AmeriCorps member serving at One Roof as the Capacity Building Assistant.

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