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Humanity in action: ASU initiative reaches out to Phoenix homeless community

ASU Project Humanities puts principles into action with Service Saturdays

ASU Project Humanities provides essential items to the homeless in downtown Phoenix.

ASU Project Humanities provides essential items to the homeless in downtown Phoenix.

Street lights of the night before remain visible as the sun begins to rise. It may still be dark outside, but students and volunteers clad in gray sweatshirts and t-shirts with a yellow hand logo gather.

The reason? Volunteers from different cities, ages, cultures and backgrounds come together to help a community that is often overlooked.

ASU Project Humanities, a nonprofit initiative, offers a variety of strategies for creating true dialogue, discovery, connectedness and a sustained focus to create a personal responsibility and social accountability.

What first began as a “spontaneous day of service” has now transformed into a bi-monthly gathering of volunteers from diverse backgrounds.

Volunteers gather at South 12th Avenue on the sidewalk between West Jefferson and West Madison streets from 6:45 am to 8:15 am to participate in Service Saturdays, which are held every other Saturday.

The volunteers help disperse essential items, such as clothing, toiletries and shoes, to an estimated 200 individuals experiencing homelessness and help them "shop" for the items they need in a store-like setup. 

Project Humanities Director and ASU Foundation Professor of English Neal Lester said one of the worst things about becoming homeless is that it can often lead to the loss of one’s humanity.

“Helping the homeless is a transformative experience because it teaches many of us about what we take for granted: a place to live and sleep, as well as some measure of human kindness,” said Lester.

Listening to their stories is a reminder that homelessness is just a circumstance, not an identity.

For those who have participated often, there is the presence and feeling of a community. 

“It’s also realizing that sometimes when we think that we are sort of drowning in hopelessness because so many things are happening in the world,” Lester said. "This feels empowering, it feels like you’re actually giving back, and you're also experiencing a kind of challenge to step outside your comfort zone.”

The idea of the initiative is to put principles into action.

Ariz Chang, an intern at ASU Project Humanities, said reaching out to others makes a big difference. 

"Everyone can be facing a different sort of circumstance at a given time and you don't really know what is going on in other people's lives," Chang said. "But if you can just reach out and support them, then that can go a long way."

The outreach does not end with the Service Day. People can donate items, help sort the items, or raise awareness.

Project Humanities has already seen a lot of community involvement, from children collecting 400 shoes for donation to established organizations contributing 5000 bottles of water toward the cause, Lester said.

Chang said the skills that come with being involved are valuable. 

"I think working with this initiative teaches you to help other people and to connect with other people," Chang said. "Project Humanities' mission is to get people to talk, listen and connect. I think by building those skills, it can help in any job. Maybe if you are looking to work in a team or understand ideas better."

By interacting and observing, there are skills and methods to apply what is learned while volunteering to everyday life. 

"It's not only skills though," said Bindu Nakirikanti, a rising sophomore and a biomedical informatics and Health Solutions at ASU. "I think your experiences and things you perceive are important. I personally like how I can grow on a personal level."

The next day of service is this Saturday

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