Cardboard city, work with KARM, Second Harvest, Operation Backyard are part of parish project
By Emily Booker
Learning about homelessness meant actually living it for several All Saints Parish youth.
The annual Life on the Streets Retreat Oct. 23-25 focused on learning more about what it means to be homeless and on helping the local homeless population of Knoxville. Forty-three youth slept outside in cardboard boxes for two nights and participated in service projects at Knoxville Area Rescue Ministries, Second Harvest Food Bank, and Operation Backyard.
Participants were only allowed to bring a sleeping bag, a toothbrush, and the clothes on their back plus one additional piece of clothing because the project was designed to simulate a homeless situation. Upon arrival, they had their bags checked for contraband, as would happen at a shelter. They constructed shelter out of cardboard boxes.
Norma Carrillo, a high school freshman, said, “Sleeping in a box at night makes you put yourself in others’ shoes. That’s their everyday life. You learn how to be thankful for what you do have.”
On Saturday, the youth worked with several local agencies to conduct service projects that dealt with homelessness, hunger, and poverty in Knoxville. One group served snacks at the shelter. Others worked in the KARM thrift store in Lenoir City and the Christmas store in Knoxville. Proceeds from the stores go back to the shelter. Another group worked with Second Harvest Food Bank. Another worked with Operation Backyard to paint a woman’s house.
KARM provides about 1,000 meals a day and shelter for nearly 400 people every night.
Annie Nassis, director of youth ministry at All Saints, explained that it was important for the youth to actually see the shelter and interact with the people there.
“Part of [KARM’s] philosophy is that they want both their guests and their volunteers to have a positive encounter. They also want to infuse an encounter with Christ in everything they do.…They say that they want to provide an environment of overwhelming biblical hospitality,” said Ms. Nassis, who noted that the youth engaged with the program Every Bed, Every Day during their visit.
“It’s a really incredible program,” Ms. Nassis said. “They have church groups or volunteers pray over each of the beds at the shelter every day. So what we did was have the kids make cards to leave on the beds, too.”
Rosa Cisneros, a high school senior, said that she enjoyed learning more about the shelter and its many programs. She also learned the value in doing small acts of charity.
“It’s the littlest things,” she said. “You don’t have to do a big impact. It can just be something small, and it will result in something big.”
The retreat also included discussions about homelessness, reflections, and prayer. The students wrote about their experiences on the outside of their cardboard boxes. At the end of the weekend, the teens moved their boxes to the front of All Saints Church so that parishioners could read the reflections.
Ms. Nassis hopes the retreat teaches the youth more about the needs of the community and ways in which they can help.
“I think the biggest thing for the kids to learn is compassion and empathy, just to be grateful for what they do have,” she said. “It’s easy for any of us to feel very entitled. Even things like a bottled water. We were handing out snacks at KARM, and the kids said, ‘Everyone was just so thankful for just a bag of chips or the applesauce we gave them.’”
The Life on the Streets Retreat was developed by Theresa Wasil in 2008 for her Girl Scout Gold Award project. It has grown every year since.
“It has been incredible to see a Scouting project grow into an awareness movement throughout our community,” Ms. Nassis said. ■