Making a Difference in Our Community: Students and Employees Sleep Out for Homeless Youth

On Monday, April 3, 2017, 150 students, faculty and staff gathered to sleep out on the East Campus lawn, trading the comforts of home for a plastic bag, cardboard and a sleeping bag.

By simulating homelessness, the participants gained awareness of what it’s like to live on the street and took the first steps toward raising $10,000 for the Covenant House Florida’s General Education Development (GED) Program. The event raised $2,095 or 20 percent of the goal. To contribute to the remaining $8,000, click here.

The Valencia Sleep Out was started by two members of East Campus’ PTK chapter — Alpha Gamma Omega, Bruno Basso, vice president for scholarship, and Michael Onuchovsky, executive vice-president and PR director. They wanted to create an opportunity for students in Central Florida to take action and let the world know that they will not stand by quietly while young people suffer from homelessness. Phi Theta Kappa has an Honors Program, Honors in Action, which is designed to engage honors students in actions to foster student success and help fulfill their two-fold mission, recognizing and encouraging scholarship in a lively exchange of ideas and developing leaders who serve their communities.

Commenting on the success and the importance of the event, East and Winter Park Campus President Stacey Johnson shared, “I am so very proud of everyone who gathered to help our neighbors at the Covenant House and to help the young people they serve, particularly young women and children, who need to see a light in their future. Through the power and compassion that education and higher learning can bring, Valencia can shine that light.”

In addition to sleeping on the lawn, participants also enjoyed student dance and music performances in honor of homeless students and speeches from community leaders and advocates such as Stacey; Leonard Bass, campus dean, learning support; Earl Ricketts, Covenant House and Valencia student; James Gress, executive director of the Covenant House; Jesse Wolfe, Valencia alumni and CEO of O’Dang Hummus; and Christina Burkenroad, Orlando Pride player who was previously homeless.

In the morning — after enduring a night of sleeplessness plagued by visiting critters, Florida humidity, sirens and the late-night chatter of other participants — Director of the Peace and Justice Institute Rachel Allen led a reflection.

During this time, students expressed their reasons for participating, which ranged from wanting to bring light to the issue to students having previously been homeless. In reflection, students described the event as “profound,” “eye-opening” and “enlightening.” One student commented, “There is something about using your shoe as a pillow that changes the way you perceive homelessness.”

In the end, students left with a new-found awareness of the reality of homelessness and the vision to change it.

“It inspires me to volunteer more and give back to the community,” one student said. “Youth homelessness is a bigger issue than we all could have known.”

Throughout Valencia’s 50th anniversary year, to celebrate the College’s service to our community, we will feature stories of Valencia’s community impact and the volunteer efforts of our colleagues. 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 the_grove@valenciacollege.edu 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

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