By Dani Moritz-Long
It isn’t easy being a young adult and suddenly finding yourself thrust into this place called reality. It’s even harder when you’re sleeping on the streets and you don’t know where your next meal will come from — let alone what the future holds.
“I decided to serve at the Covenant House because of their mission and who they serve,” said Leonard, who began serving the Covenant House in 2014. “Investing in at-risk youth has long been a focus of mine. I remember this period of my life being confusing and a critical period of transformation. Being someone who lost his father to cancer the second year of college, I can relate to the importance of mentors and a strong social support network during these years.”
Similarly, Mathematics Professor Marjorie Karwowski, who has been serving the Covenant House since 2008, found inspiration in the recognition of how crucial — and difficult — young adulthood is.
“In 2006, Valencia’s distinguished graduate was formerly homeless,” she said. “That day changed the way I perceive the homeless. That day, I was determined to make a difference as I saw the impact Dean of Humanities David Sutton and Professor [Elizabeth] Eschbach had on this student.”
Both Marjorie and Leonard have channeled their empathy and compassion into an effort that makes a real difference to those under the care of the Covenant House. With the help of volunteers like them and partnerships with organizations like Valencia, the Covenant House cares for youth in need and prepares them for independence and brighter futures.
“They [Covenant House Florida] have a long history of not only offering shelter to homeless youth, but providing important services that will move young people to self-sufficiency,” Leonard explained. “I was especially drawn to the focus they place on education through their GED completion program. As I got to know some of the residents at the shelter, I quickly realized that they were just like other students I had worked with throughout my 20-year career in higher education. They had many of the same interests and dreams but needed guidance and someone to believe in them to help actualize those dreams.”
To help make those dreams possible, the Covenant House raises money through an annual Sleep Out. During the event, so-called sleepers participate in a discussion with the serviced youth and then head outside — equipped with a cardboard box and sleeping bag — to sleep on the pavement. In doing so, they simultaneously garner an understanding of what homelessness is like and raise funds to support the shelter.
This year, the Valencia team’s efforts resulted in $4,750 raised.
Commenting on the experience, Leonard said, “I rarely get much sleep as it has always been very uncomfortable and stressful. We sleep on cardboard in a sleeping bag that is either too hot, too cold or not big enough, and the concrete is always too hard. However, that’s the point, and you realize that quickly as you lie on the ground staring at the stars trying to imagine how anyone could live a productive life without the security of a home or a good night’s rest. I am especially more conscious of how challenging it would be for students trying to be successful living without a home.”
Looking to the future, Leonard is working with East Campus’ Phi Theta Kappa to find new ways to benefit homeless youth, including even hosting a special Valencia Sleep Out this spring. He’s also proud of the work Valencia continues to do.
“I could not be prouder of the Valencia community for the work they do to support at-risk youth in our community,” he said. “Many of the students who complete the GED program at Covenant House and later enroll at Valencia often comment that, in addition to the strong academic programs at Valencia, it is the culture of care that provides the motivation to continue when life gets hard. As Lindsay Davis, a Covenant House program participant and Valencia student who was recently interviewed by the Orlando Sentinel, stated, Covenant House provides homeless youth with a lifeline, and Valencia helps them write the next chapter of their book.”
Throughout Valencia’s 50th anniversary year, to celebrate the College’s service to our community, we will feature stories of Valencia employees who volunteer. Whether you volunteer as a board member of a foundation or you serve meals to the homeless, we want to hear about it because every act of kindness is worth celebrating. To submit a Valencia volunteer story, simply email firstname.lastname@example.org the following information:
- Your name
- Your photo (preferably of you volunteering)
- Where you volunteer and a description of the organization
- How long you have volunteered with that organization
- Why you choose to volunteer with that organization
- What you enjoy most about volunteering with that organization