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Combating hunger in the nation’s capitol

The Center for Leadership & Community Engagement hosts Immersion: Citizens Take Action, a program that takes participants beyond the campus community to engage in projects in diverse locations.

Coming up is the Winter Break Intersession Immersion called “Hunger and Homelessness at the Heart,” taking place January 4–9 2016.

This Immersion focuses on exploring urban poverty in Washington, D.C., This is an entirely new program, much like the “Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki: A Place to Learn . . . A Place to Remember” Immersion that took place November 13–15 in the Everglades National Park, the result of a partnership with the Seminole tribe of Florida to explore Native American heritage and culture.

The focus of the Center for Leadership & Community Engagement this year was the celebration of culture and heritage months. Spring 2016 boasts the annual Martin Luther King Jr. celebration during the week of January 18–23.

“Hunger and Homelessness at the Heart” will take participants into the nation’s capital, heightening an awareness of homelessness and urban hunger prevalent there. According to the application for this Immersion, participants will discover city history and culture, housing issues, mental and public health challenges, institutional inequalities, and social marginalization.

Mike McFadden, Graduate Assistant for Leadership Development, reflected upon going into this brand new experience.

He said, “This is a huge issue in the Central Florida community as well, so I am looking forward to getting more involved with this impact area when we return to campus. Especially seeing as this is an election year, I am very excited to spend some time in the nation’s capital and to learn about one of the biggest issues facing individuals in D.C.”

Participants will be attending a Hunger & Homelessness Simulation at the Capital Area Food Bank—where they will serve lunch—and the National Coalition for the Homeless Faces of Hunger Panel, serve dinner at Central Union Mission, and prepare food with Food & Friends, an organization devoted to providing men, women, and children suffering from HIV/AIDS and cancer with meal and grocery deliveries.

On the last day, students will be serving breakfast at Thrive D.C., an organization that works to prevent and end homelessness. In between volunteering sessions, participants will also be visiting national memorials and Smithsonian Museums.

November 14–22 also marks National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness week, bringing awareness to these causes with the aim to eradicate them in the future.

Some statistics on homelessness and hunger: According to a Point in Time fact sheet from the D.C. Government site, in 2015 7,298 individuals experienced homelessness including those who were unsheltered, in emergency shelters, and in transitional housing.

8 percent of those individuals reported a chronic health problem, 13 percent reported a physical disability, 10 percent reported having served in the United States Armed Forces, and 1 in 5 homeless adults surveyed had histories of substance abuse or mental illness.

According to the United States Census Bureau, in 2014 the official poverty rate was 14.8 percent. There were 46.7 million people in poverty.

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