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K-State Today

December 13, 2017

Keeping Salina Warm: Kansas State Polytechnic social work students create homelessness simulation, fundraiser for senior project

Submitted by Julee Cobb

When seven seniors in the social work degree option on the Kansas State University Polytechnic Campus decided to gather warm clothing for three local agencies, they had hoped to receive 100 winter coat donations. After only 30 minutes of their seven-hourslong collection drive, the students surpassed their goal and even amassed boxes and bags filled with scarves, gloves and hats.

The fundraiser was a part of the seniors' final project in Social Work Macro Practice and Theory, a class focused on promoting change within a community, rather than an individual. The students — Stacy Crumble, Gina Nelson-Fishel, Lexi Gasper, Hali Norris, Katrina Ramirez, Maritza Rodriguez and Tammy Trepoy — wanted to use their project to shine a light on the local homeless population and decided to create an event that would be both philanthropic and educational.

From 5 p.m. to midnight on Dec. 1, the social work students held Keeping Salina Warm, which encouraged attendees to donate winter clothing items while learning about homelessness. Participants experienced what it would be like to be without adequate shelter on a cold night through a simulation held outside the Student Life Center on campus with tents and cardboard boxes. Dinner also was served in the style of a soup kitchen and representatives of the Salina Rescue Mission, Ashby House and Domestic Violence Association of Central Kansas talked with guests about their experiences with and services for people who need help getting back on their feet.

Nelson-Fishel, Salina, says her class wanted to highlight homelessness because it is more common than most people might think.

"We want to educate our community that homelessness can happen to anyone at any time for multiple reasons," she said.

Crumble, Hutchinson, echoes her classmate, explaining that there are misconceptions surrounding why people become homeless.

"A lot of times we think of homelessness as that individual's problem, but we don't always think about what made that person homeless in the first place," Crumble said. "Often times people are trying to get away from certain situations, like domestic violence, and sometimes the only place they can go is the streets."

As part of their project, the social work seniors were required to organize the entire event themselves from start to finish. The idea for a homeless simulation was inspired by common poverty simulations that have been performed in their field. They also secured the event's space, worked with radio stations and newspapers for marketing, and reached out to local businesses for donations of food and supplies.

"We emphasize the strengths-based model in social work and part of the reason I like this assignment is because everyone gets to identify and demonstrate their personal strengths," said Cheryl Calhoun, social work instructor at Kansas State Polytechnic. "This project also allows for the students to help each other build the skills they haven't had a chance to develop yet, and at the end, they have a career-relevant experience they can put on their resume and speak about with industry."

At the completion of Keeping Salina Warm, the social work students estimate that they received more than $2,000 in winter clothing donations, which will be given to the three agencies that were a part of the event. Although there is no way to measure the impression of the educational portion of their project, Crumble says if even one person was impacted, it could be a domino effect.

"Our class just hopes Keeping Salina Warm helped inform someone who can then help inform someone else."