ASU students support homeless teens through humanitarian organization

Students help with Phoenix International Christian Church's food, clothing and hygiene drive for Phoenix's homeless teens

The Maricopa Association of Governments' annual Point-In-Time Homeless counts indicate a gradual increase in homeless persons in the Valley — the 2018 count on the night of Jan. 22, 2018 accounted for 6,298 homeless individuals with 2,618 unsheltered. 

Furthermore, a study released by the Homeless Coordination office in the Arizona Department of Economic Security documented 320 unaccompanied homeless children and youth in Maricopa County in 2017.

MERCY Worldwide volunteers, including ASU students and congregants of Phoenix International Christian Church, seek to provide resources to the growing homeless population in the area by hosting a monthly food, clothing and hygiene drive.

The donations are then brought to the Tumbleweed Center for Youth Development, a non-profit that provides resources and support to homeless youth in the Valley, and UMOM New Day Centers, Arizona's largest provider of services and shelters to homeless families. 

“I found that there's quite a few youths who are homeless, and that's due to parents being abusive, there may be drugs, alcohol, maybe the parents are in jail for variety of reasons,” said Michelle Brown, the director of MERCY Worldwide in Phoenix. She said this realization inspired her to identify a way for MERCY to help Arizona's homeless population. 

Phoenix International Christian Church holds the drive, which is approaching its first anniversary in January 2018, every second Sunday of the month and distributes the donations the next day. 

Domingas Fernandes, a senior double majoring in accounting and finance and vice president of MERCY Worldwide in Phoenix, said the effects of the group's drives are clear. 

“We noticed that the centers used to send out alerts for needs of different items," Fernandes said. "Since we started collecting, they haven't sent out as much alert because our drive has helped tremendously."

Fernandes is one of a group of ten ASU students who take part in MERCY Worldwide in Phoenix. As an immigrant herself, she said the opportunity to help migrant youth who have been rendered homeless adds meaning to her work through MERCY.

"I was able to relate to them as an immigrant, as well as to be able to see that they came here with a dream just as I did and they didn't come with their families," Fernandes said. "And then they end up in a situation where they don't have any family here."

Brown said the ministry isn’t designed exclusively for college students or tied to ASU, but students are encouraged to get involved. 

In addition to the monthly drives, Brown said the group has completed several other projects including volunteering as St. Mary’s Food Bank and helping make Thanksgiving dinner for the homeless youth involved in the Tumbleweed Center.

Brown said the MERCY volunteers want to make holidays like Thanksgiving feel as comfortable and normal as possible for the kids. 

"We decorated the tables and we provided a nice meal," she said. "It's not that they wouldn't have food for the kids, but I prefer to give what I would serve at my table."

Arianda Martinez, a junior studying computer science and a MERCY Worldwide in Phoenix officer, said the face-to-face contact with the kids is extremely important for developing their social skills and makes the work more personal.

“It helps them gain trust and to know that people care for them,” Martinez said. “It’s nice to see them actually remembering us and the stuff we do with them, we are not just some stranger who dropped off some food.”

Martinez said it is easy to get overwhelmed with the busyness of college, but her volunteer work with MERCY keeps her grounded.

“You can forget that there are actual people living here. It’s more than just you going to college. There are people who are hurting and needing (help),” Martinez said. “It brings me a lot of joy to be able to spend time with them and give them a little bit of (joy).”

Fernandes said people should think about the impact individuals can have on these kids' futures and on the future of the community.

“Children are the future and there are kids in our community that need our help. They can be future Sun Devils,” Fernandes said. “They can help the community later on, but if we don't provide them the help right now, we’re limiting their possibilities.”

Brown said regardless of one's circumstances, there are always ways to contribute. 

“If you have a Cup-o-Noodles that is 33 cents, one cup will feed one child. One teen. And that is huge,” Brown said. “Just giving your heart makes a huge difference.”


Reach the reporter at tlhill9@asu.edu and follow @hilltroy99 on Twitter. 

Like The State Press on Facebook and follow @statepress on Twitter.


Get the best of State Press delivered straight to your inbox.