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LCC Writing Students to tell First-Hand Stories of Lansing's Homeless

April 24, 2015

Lansing, MICH - Megan Bassette struggled with her perceptions when she volunteered to tell the stories of the city's homeless through a class writing project at Lansing Community College (LCC).

"I thought it was a great idea to help them write their stories," says the second year LCC student. "But at the same time, I knew I had stereotyped homeless people and was scared of them."

Bassette is among 10 students from an LCC composition class meeting with homeless clients at the Volunteers of America (VOA) Michigan. The students listen, take notes, and develop the rapport they need to help clients write a five- or six-page story from the client's point-of-view. The end result, says Bassette, will be a booklet of narratives that may be distributed at LCC and the VOA.

"I hope I can help change the views of others so they won't be afraid of the homeless like I was," says Bassette. "Even more than that, I really hope to make a difference in the life of the person I'm working with to tell his/her story."

VOA staff member Michelle Adams says many of the homeless at the shelter were wary about participating in the LCC writing project. Some simply didn't want to talk. Others were skeptical that anyone really cared about what they had to say. But for the handful who came forward, she says, the process became therapeutic, sometimes cathartic, and a way to show their lives do matter.

"Stories like these give the homeless a face, name, and a personality," says Adams. "They break down barriers and show that they're people just like you and me, but only in different living situations."

Adams helped prepare LCC students to meet and talk with the homeless by dispelling myths and providing interviewing do's and don'ts. She also ensured that students and their clients had a comfortable place to visit and work at the VOA shelter.

"I could not have asked for any more from the VOA," says LCC Writing Professor, Judy Allen, who teaches the composition class. "They've been very generous and extremely supportive."

Allen says the project took shape early in the spring semester when she presented a sample essay written by a previous student. The essay, she says, addressed the writer's thoughts and feelings toward the homeless after he encountered a mother and her two children living in a car. To Allen's surprise, students quickly turned from discussing the essay's writing style to the issue of homelessness and how they might help.

"Their heart touched me," says Allen. "It was inexplicable to hear their voices and to see the look in their eyes. I just knew I couldn't let this opportunity go by."

Allen consulted with the Writing Center and with the VOA as she crafted a volunteer activity that would apply core writing skills and make a difference. Based on responses from students, the College and community, she anticipates the project will grow to involve students from related areas like photography and journalism.

For now, Allen has no expectations, and simply wants students and their homeless storytellers to bring life to otherwise untold stories.

"This wasn't part of my curriculum at the beginning of the semester, and it's exciting to see how this class discussion evolved into a service learning project,” said Allen. “But, it's even more exciting to see how the lives of my students, the clients, and I will be changed because of it.”

About Lansing Community College

Lansing Community College is Michigan's third largest community college with approximately 20,000 students attending each year. LCC offers courses in general education for those interested in transferring to a four-year institution, career and workforce development, developmental education and personal enrichment. To meet the professional development and training needs of regional employees, the college offers customized programs for credit, non-credit and continuing education. The University Center at LCC offers students the opportunity to earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees from six partner universities on the downtown LCC campus. For more information, visit lcc.edu.

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