Making a difference

Room at the Inn Gives Homeless Place to go

Northern students are no strangers to volunteering, and Room at the Inn is another way students are getting involved and helping with a very worthwhile cause: the homeless population of Marquette.

Room at the Inn involves various churches around town taking turns housing the homeless for a short period of time. The program started a year and a half ago when Helen McCormick, who worked at St. Vincent De Paul, noticed numerous people coming in and talking about having nowhere to sleep, said Dave Bonsall, who serves on the Board of Directors for Room at the Inn and is also the Director of the Center for Student Enrichment at NMU.

“It really upset [McCormick]” Bonsall said. “So over that spring and summer, she pulled together people who were interested, and she modeled it after a homeless shelter in Macomb County (Michigan).”

Senior social work major Erin Graham decided to help out last year after a professor told her class about the program.

“A big group of us really thought it was an amazing thing to be a part of, and we went to the first training session and just fell in love with it,” Graham said.

The training to serve as a volunteer at Room at the Inn took two full nights, which was daunting, Graham said. She also said she wasn’t sure what to expect but that her experience was more than she imagined.

“Right off the bat it was eye-opening,” she said. “There were people who were just like you and I. It was just a really eye-opening experience that I would never take for granted.”

Close to 12 churches are now involved and will host the Room at the Inn for a week’s time. During that time, volunteers will pick up mattresses and forms and set up at the new church. There are different shifts that volunteers can choose from, ranging from four to six hours, Bonsall said.

“It’s also a warming shelter where people can stay to warm up,” Bonsall said. “Bus tickets are provided for those staying at the shelter.”

Graham, who is volunteering for her second year at Room at the Inn, said she chooses to continue to help because she feels impelled to.

“I couldn’t imagine not doing it; it really changed my life for the better,” Graham said. “The people I’ve met through doing it-the guests of the shelter-are just amazing people. I couldn’t imagine not doing it.”

Volunteering is something that should be done all throughout life, Graham said, but now is the best time to do it.

“I think [volunteering] is an important thing to do all the time, but especially in college,” Graham said. “It’s easy to get wrapped up in the college experience and get wrapped up in yourself, because it’s a time of enjoying your life before you get into the real world, but volunteering can really benefit us.”

Before this program was started, not many people were fully aware of the issue of the homeless population here, Graham said.

“This program has opened a lot of eyes and opened a lot of minds. It’s pulled together a lot of different types of people . for this common good,” Graham said. “People are really enjoying what they’re doing.”

More is being done to bring about awareness on the homeless population of Marquette, which is nearly 100 people, Graham said.

“Anything that you can do, just talking about it and helping quiet people’s fears, any positive light you can shed on the situation helps,” she said. “It’s just a really resilient population that is so overlooked.”

Senior writing major Tom Rich recently finished training to help volunteer for Room at the Inn and said he can’t wait to start.

“It’s going to be nerve-wracking and exciting,” Rich said, adding that people don’t believe there’s a homeless problem in Marquette.

But the people who volunteer are noticing it more, which helps raise awareness.

“Even police who find homeless out in the winter months now have a place to take them,” he said. “They can take them to the Room at the Inn and they’ll have a bed for them, so it’s a response to the homeless problem which a lot of people don’t really think about it Marquette.”

Rich would like to make this program more known for Northern students to participate in.

“What I’m trying to do is set up an organization to get a fair amount of Northern students involved this year, but also something that will be around after I’m gone,” Rich said.

This year close to 400 people registered, most at their own church.

“It really makes the whole thing work when there are a lot of volunteers,” Bonsall said. “It’s not meant to be like a permanent shelter; people are homeless for a whole variety of reasons. It’s meant for people to sleep in a nice warm place and have food to eat when they’re at a time of transition in their life.”

For more information regarding Room at the Inn, contact Tom Rich at [email protected]

Students Lend Helping Hand to Humane Society

Being at Northern, it’s easy to get caught up in the college lifestyle. With classes in full swing, homecoming activities wrapping up and mid-terms just around the corner, there’s not much time left for helping others, especially the really hairy ones.

But the cats, dogs and other animals that end up at the Marquette County Humane Society need attention from volunteers. NMU students like junior ecology major Travis Kidd and senior zoology major Trina Beatson, take time out of their week to help out with the needy animals.

For Kidd, it was more about making up for not helping out in the past.

“I felt like I needed to get involved with the community, and I was a little ashamed of how little volunteer work I was doing before,” said Kidd. Now that he’s volunteering, he said it’s a fun and easy way to get together with a group of friends and make a difference in the community.

Beatson used to volunteer back home at the Humane Society of Kent County and wanted to continue helping up here in Marquette.

“I missed the animals,” she said.

And Kidd and Beatson aren’t the only students who help out. Ashley Mink, lead worker at the humane society, said NMU students make up about 20 percent of the shelters volunteers, and they play an important role in keeping the place clean and paying attention to the animals.

“The dogs usually get the most attention,” Mink said. Volunteers not only get to sit and pet the dogs, but they also get to take them for walks.

“It’s great exercise, and for me it is nice to be able to help train some of these dogs on how to walk on a leash,” Kidd said. “I always like to go to the end of the road and run full speed back with the dogs to let them really stretch their legs. I don’t think many people do that when they walk dogs at the shelter.”

But dogs are not the only animals that need attention.

“We’re trying to get more attention for the cats,” Mink said. “With the amount of animals in the shelter, it’s hard for the staff to sit for an hour with the cats,” said Kidd.

Since the staff doesn’t have time to sit with each individual cat, especially with how many are coming in, the humane society has been putting flyers out that advertise the need for ‘kitty cuddlers.’

“Kitty cuddlers are just people that allow the cats to get out of their cage and have some one-on-one time with people,” Beatson said, adding that this is a good way to socialize cats before they get good homes.

“It’s great if you’re interested in sitting in a room reading a text book with a cat on your lap,” Kidd said.

And for people who aren’t as comfortable around the larger animals, there are smaller pets at the shelter who sometimes need just as much care and are often overlooked.

“I usually get the little critters,” Beatson said. She’s worked with rats, rabbits, gerbils, degus, hamsters and chinchillas at the humane society. “I don’t know why I really like these guys. So few people do, I guess,” she added.

Beatson usually volunteers on the weekends for a few hours, and it fits well with her schedule, but Kidd has been having trouble going there as often as he used to.

“Last semester I went every Friday for a few hours,” he said. “Lately I have only been able to make it out there once or twice a month.”

But it’s the great times they’ve had with the animals that keeps them going back.

“There are always one or two animals that stand out,” Kidd said. “It’s encouraging when one of the dogs gets a good home.”

His favorite farewell to a dog was a 10-year-old boxer named Whitney.

“She was at the shelter for a few months this summer and not very many visitors were interested in her because she was so old,” Kidd said. “It took quite a while to find old Whitney a home but I think she has found a family to live out the rest of her years with.”

For anyone interested in volunteering, visit their Web site at www.upaws.org.