April 10, 2018

Students and past students from Des Moines Area Community College in Carroll ventured to Omaha, where they spent the day with people experiencing homelessness to assist them during eye exams, haircuts or even on-site job interviews.

In the Omaha and Council Bluffs area, about 1,500 people are currently experiencing homelessness, according to the Schlegel Center for Service and Justice at Creighton University in Omaha. To connect with some of those people and offer their support, representatives from DMACC in Carroll volunteered their time and human service skills to help on March 23.

Leaving at 5 a.m. to get to Omaha, Teresa Friesen, human service, psychology and sociology instructor at DMACC in Carroll, took a handful of students, previous students and other faulty members to Omaha to participate in Creighton University’s Project Homeless Connect.

This was the 11th year Creighton has organized the project, and in that time, participants have helped more than 3,000 of the area’s homeless find housing, medical services such as health care and more, according to the Project Homeless Connect website.

After training, the “navigators” were partnered with someone who is or was experiencing homelessness to share a meal and figure out what services were offered at the event and which they needed.

“If you can go through and kind of prioritize where they want to spend their time, then they make the day really applicable for each of them,” Friesen said. “The training is about where all the services are located, how to access each of the services, the paperwork that’s involved to engage in the services, making sure that you’re aware of rules and policies — (for instance), if there’s a health need, what you would do?”

More than 500 volunteers committed their time to the project, she said.

The services were split between social and medical services. They included dental exams, eye exams, immunizations, haircuts, on-site job interviews and more.

“My guest (who is experiencing homelessness) said multiple times throughout the day, ‘This is such a great day — it’s a great day,’ ” Friesen said.

Jen Schulte, a business instructor at DMACC in Carroll, attended the event to see how local businesses were representing themselves at Creighton University.

“It was fascinating for me to see that Creighton used students within their departments of what skills they are trying to learn,” Schulte said. “If you are learning about eye care and vision or if you are learning about legal care — those students who are studying that pathway are assisting the businesses that are there. That is a cool connection between volunteers and businesses within the Omaha community.”

Next year, Friesen said, she plans to include the public so that people in the Carroll area can join in helping with Project Homeless Connect.

“I think it is a very powerful experience to engage one-on-one with a person experiencing a lot of challenges,” Friesen said. “It puts a lot of things in perspective. It reminds us of the battles that people experience every day that we don’t often realize. It helps us grow in our compassion and in our patience. It reminds us of ways that we can reach out. It’s very easy to think that problems of the world are very big, and we can’t do anything about them, and if we can shift our mindset to thinking, ‘What is it that I can do?’ then a lot of creativity happens and action happens.”

Schulte added that the entire day was possible because of Friesen’s time and effort to make the connections in Omaha.

Teresa is doing an amazing job with our human services program,” Schulte said. “She ensures the students have opportunities outside of the classroom to diversify their learning experience, and Project Homeless Connect was one of those great opportunities.”