Accompanied by teacher and Chelsea Center director Kerry Arens, the students of the Real World Problem Solving class, traveled to Lifewise STL on a service immersion trip on Nov. 15 and 16.
According to its website, Lifewise, previously known as Kingdom House, was founded in 1902 as a “settlement house,” providing education and resources to a growing immigrant population in St. Louis. Its stated mission is “to help individuals and families achieve economic well-being by providing high-impact, relationship-based programming and by addressing systemic barriers to their success.”
The two-day trip consisted of two main activities. On the first day, students designed after school activities for the K-5 childcare program at Lifewise’s “Fun Fridays,” a relationship-based activity at the end of the week of academic tutoring.
On the second day, students had to meal plan for a family of five based on the stipulations granted by Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, and then had to go and attempt to price out the items they planned for at a local grocery store, Field’s Foods, which Arens described as having “beautiful, organic, kind of really expensive foods.”
Students additionally were given other challenges: One group had a clean water issue and had to budget accordingly, while another had a gluten allergy, and had to shop around that.
During the trip, the group stayed in a duplex around the corner from Lifewise’s community center, which the organization has set up for trips with school groups like this one, as well as alternative spring breaks and similar trips.
Arens, about the biggest moments of realization she saw in her students throughout the trip was said, “I think one of the biggest ones that they spoke to was how interconnected all of the facets of poverty can be, and how before you engage in some of these simulations or experiences, you think of it as really a strictly financial issue, but as you continue to make decisions based on finances, how you end up potentially isolating yourself relationship-wise.”
Arens added, “I think it is the same thing kind of around applying for SNAP benefits and hearing the number that you have to have in order to feed a family of five, and then going to a store and realizing, ‘Oh my gosh these are like Whole Foods prices! I can’t, in one hundred and something dollars, buy for a family of five for the week, unless I make some really strict decisions around what we are eating.’ At one point, they were talking about making rice cake sandwiches because of a gluten allergy and because rice cakes are cheap. You could just put something on them and kids could eat them, and then there is that whole conversation around ‘Okay, so if we do that, yes, our family is being fed, but what does that do to our mental health and our happiness.’”
Senior Grace Lock, one of the students who went on the trip, about her experiences, wrote in an email,“I am now more aware of how real people feel and live in poverty in our city, along with the barriers they face on a regular basis in transportation, child care, and running errands, but I rarely think about any of these in my life and take them all for granted.”
Arens encourages students to take service trips and service opportunities outside of the context of classes or school.
“I definitely think any time you can serve, you learn a lot about yourself in addition to the community… you learn more about them, and how we are all human, and how we are all very different, and how one person in poverty looks very different from another, or if you are serving women who are victims of domestic abuse, everybody presents with a different story, so to just be their and listen to those stories and be shaped by them I think is powerful,” Arens said.
This is Maeve Taylor’s second year on the Echo as the podcast editor, after making several contributions to the Echo while taking journalism her freshman year.
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