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February 23, 2013

Let’s Talk with Sarah Gay

Columbia College students are adding to community efforts to combat homelessness.

Columbia College students are adding to community efforts to combat homelessness.

For several hours Friday afternoon, students collected lightly used clothing, toiletries and other items for homeless students in Richland 1 as part of Project Give, a collaborative effort of the Hickory Ridge Neighborhood Association and Richland County Sheriff’s Department. The Columbia College group also prepared sandwiches to deliver to the area’s homeless.

Friday’s day of service was part of the college’s Koala Days on the Green, which seeks to build more community on campus.

The homeless outreach was coordinated by Sarah Gay of AmeriCorps VISTA, a national service program designed to fight poverty. Gay spoke Friday about the outreach and ongoing efforts to address homelessness in the community.

How did you choose the issue of homelessness for your service project?

Gay: “Serendipitously. Target had helped us out with a previous event (60 Seconds of Service) in January. At about the time we needed to start planning for Koala Day, Target connected us with the Hickory Ridge Neighborhood Association. We met with the president of the association to discuss partnership potential, and that’s when we learned about Project Give.”

What was one of the most informative discoveries from that group?

Gay: “I learned that over 800 students are homeless in Richland District 1, where Columbia College is located. So that is where the idea for an event to donate items to Project Give came from.”

How did the various groups come together on this project?

Gay: “The Hickory Ridge Neighborhood Association connected us with the Richland County Sheriff’s Department Youth Arbitration Program and we arranged for a group from Columbia College to go to Finlay Park to distribute peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to the homeless.”

What do you feel is the general awareness level of homeless issues among students at the college?

Gay: “Generally, I think there is mid- to high-level awareness. Through our community service and service learning programs, students who may not have been directly exposed are becoming more aware. My job (with AmeriCorps VISTA) is to increase awareness and create opportunity for these issues to be addressed, now and in the future. That’s why new partnerships are so important.”

What do you see as some of the greatest benefits of events like these?

Gay: “Events that address community issues like homelessness are truly a community effort. The Hickory Ridge Neighborhood Association, the Richland County Sheriff’s Department and Columbia College are not the only partners for this event. It takes support from businesses as well. Target and Piggly Wiggly have been extremely supportive of our 60 Seconds of Service projects and also take an interest in what’s going on in our community.”

So what are your hopes for this particular outreach?

Gay: “I hope this event leads to more events like it and that we can continue to add educational components. We look forward to continued work with Project Give.”

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