Creighton University Students get to know homeless at Omaha Siena/Francis House

Posted: October 15, 2011 in homelessness
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(Reprinted with permission from Siena/Francis House Fall Newsletter)

Creighton University Students get to know homeless over dinner

Every Monday evening, a group of Creighton University students spend time at the Siena/Francis House as part of a “Weekly Service Site” program, organized by Creighton’s Center for Service & Justice. However, the “service” that these students provide to guests at the shelter is much different than the normal volunteering at the Siena/Francis House. Instead of serving dinner to the shelter guests, (as most volunteers do) these students sit down and have dinner with them.

While sharing the meal that has been prepared that evening, the students engage in conversation with the homeless families and individuals. And, in doing so, these students’ own perception of homelessness – and of who is homeless – is often challenged.

Will Rutt, a Creighton student coordinator of this project states that, “By listening to the folks at dinner it really puts a human face on people who are homeless, and how similar I am to them. My time here at the Siena/Francis House has really highlighted that we share many of the same passions, interests and dreams. I’ve just been given more opportunities to fulfill those dreams.”

After dinner, the students head to a nearby conference room, where they spend another half hour listening to participants of the residential “Miracles” recovery program at the Siena/Francis House. The recovery program participants share with the students their own personal stories of how they ended up at the Siena/Francis House and what they are learning (and changing) about themselves while they are here. The recovery program participants end their talk by sharing with the students their hopes, dreams and plans for the future, after graduating from the recovery program.

Clearly, the Creighton students who come to the Siena/Francis House as part of this weekly visit are also very much changed, as a result of their experience. Another student coordinator, Elizabeth Samson states that, “After listening to people share their stories, I’m reminded that the negative stigma attached to persons suffering from addiction isn’t fair…or really who these people are. There is so much more to a person than that. These stories continue to prove to me that there is a true commonality between each of us, despite the experiences that we’ve had.”

This student-led partnership between Creighton University and the Siena/Francis House has been in existence for over ten years, and is popular with Creighton students. Each week there are students who show up who had never participated, prior, along with others who are “regulars”.

Regardless of how many times a Creighton student might stop by on any given Monday evening, there is no doubt that this experience is education that the students will not find inside a classroom. Student coordinator, Jennifer Lambrecht, shares that “Statistics and figures that quantify problems within our society are fine, but they don’t compare to the lessons I’ve learned from other persons’ life experiences. There is no question that I’ve grown as a person from my time spent at the Siena/Francis House.”

Exercising a policy of unconditional acceptance, the Siena/Francis House is dedicated to providing  services to the poor and homeless and refer to them as guests rather than clients or residents – giving them the respect and dignity they deserve.  All of the services  at Siena/Francis House are provided at no cost to its guests.

Founded in 1975, the Siena/Francis House is Nebraska’s largest shelter and is located in three facilities at 17th & Nicholas Streets in downtown Omaha, Nebraska. The Siena/Francis House provides emergency overnight shelter to men, women, and women with children. The Siena/Francis House also provides food to the homeless through its Meal Provider Program, clothing, and case management outreach services through its day services program. Additionally, the Siena/Francis House operates a residential addiction recovery program aptly named the “Miracles” Treatment Center.

Click here to find out how you can get involved in helping the Siena/Francis House.

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