Students will have an opportunity to participate in an unprecedented service program Jan.-25. The “Trading Places” homelessness simulation and community outreach experience will submerge students into the often misunderstood experience of homelessness for several days before providing them with an opportunity to serve the Scranton community.
Pat Vaccarro and Lori Moran from the Center for Service and Social Justice have teamed up with juniors Nick Longobardi, Eric Cross, Stephanie Biondo, Alyssa Biondo and Genny Francis to design a retreat-like service experience around the concept of facing the strife of homelessness in a first-hand, albeit simulated, manner.
Longobardi conceived the idea and brought it to Vaccarro before assembling a group of students to act as both creators and leaders for Trading Places. The group has met for several hours a week, beginning in May, to prepare the retreat, but has chosen to reveal few details.
“We’d like people to really be immersed in it, because we want people to be able to experience it for the first time without expectations,” Cross said.
While the first several days of Trading Spaces focus on fostering compassion, empathy and understanding for people in the condition of homelessness, the latter portion emphasizes community service within the city of Scranton. The event’s organizers chose to focus on the more immediate community in the hopes that students would become more aware of the need for social justice locally.
“A lot of us don’t recognize the poverty and inequality in the local community, so I think that would be a great experience for people to see what’s actually going on near us,” Cross said.
Stephanie Biondo agreed that the centralized location of the service would enlighten students to the need for social justice on a locally
“Service projects usually do give perspective of different conditions, but we actually live here. We get to meet people who actually live in this town, and get to know them and know their lives. You’re also doing service to yourself by seeing different perspectives and knowing what is going on,” Biondo said. “There is poverty right here. People need help here. I think people may not see that because they don’t know what the real situation is.”
One of the activity’s main goals is to bring participants perspective about the condition of homelessness and the lives of those who suffer from it.
“It’s going to be educational … it will show not only what’s going on in the community, but also in terms of the social simulation,”Cross said. It will show how people form decisions financially and personally during a rough time, when they find themselves homeless.”
Spirituality and reflection will play an important role in the experience as well. After the activities of each day, students will meet and reflect in small groups, then reconvene as a whole. Finally, they will pray the Examen, which Cross described as “particularly powerful” in the context of Trading Spaces, due to its contemplative nature. Biondo asserts that retreatants will benefit on a spiritual level by reflecting on their world and the singular role each individual plays.
“In this project, you become more aware of what you can contribute to the world. Spiritually, I think it is going to be rewarding,” Biondo said. “You’re coming to terms with your part in the community and how you can extend that even further by serving.”
Trading Places will be held at Chapman Lake and the cost will be $90.
The Center for Service and Social Justice can provide applications as well as more information on the service project.
Biondo encourages students to overcome their fears and take part in the unique opportunity.
“[Retreatants will embrace] what they can find out about themselves if they can handle it. It is intense. I can’t say too much, but it’s a great experience because no other service project is like this,” Biondo said. “It is a different type of experience and it will come as a surprise to most students what they are becoming a part of when they decide to join.”
Nov. 6, 2014