Newman University Master of Social Work (MSW) students volunteered to make a difference in the homeless community of Wichita last month.
The Wichita-Sedgwick County Continuum of Care (WSC-CoC) conducted the Point-In-Time (PIT) Homeless Count on Jan. 31, and MSW students were eager to get involved and gain experience advocating for those in need.
“The count is an important part of the year-round needs assessment and planning process to address homelessness in our community,” said Jennifer Jones, MSW field education coordinator. “The PIT Homeless Count provides a snapshot of the prevalence and scope of homelessness, as well as offers participants in the count an opportunity to connect with essential community-based services and support.”
Three students placed at the Veterans Administration for their practicum had volunteered to help so Jones connected with United Way Director of Community Impact Luella Sanders, Ph.D., to gain more information to recruit more student participants.
“I am a huge proponent of getting our students involved as much as they can in the community and getting Newman social work on the map. I want our MSW program to be known for being engaged and have our pulse on what is going on in the community we serve as social workers.”
In total, Jones recruited five students to participate in the event with her. The volunteers took part in a one-hour orientation prior to working either a morning or afternoon four-hour shift.
Participants worked in small teams with an experienced homeless outreach provider and/or PIT street surveyors and were designated to an area where they spoke with persons experiencing homelessness and assisted them in completing a survey. It was important that the volunteer count stayed fairly low to keep a good ratio of volunteers to those who were experienced.
Jones felt that this volunteer opportunity had strong ties to the social work program for many reasons. Social workers will be advocating for and providing social justice for this population and others in need as part of their professional work, so it was helpful for students to take part in the initiative.
“Any opportunity I can provide for the students to get some grassroots experience … the more knowledgeable and resourceful they will be once they become social workers,” said Jones.
There are also many benefits for the MSW students that were involved, said Jones. Gaining firsthand experience with this population will help the students widen their knowledge base and resume. Taking part in an initiative such as this allowed them to become more aware of the problems this population faces as well as the services available to them.
The students were thankful for the experience they gained and Jones said, “It was such a great opportunity. We will be participating every year and working with the United Way as surveyors and volunteers.”