February 12, 2020 1:42 pm

In late January, 31 Pierce College students volunteered for the Pierce County Point in Time Homeless Count. It was the first time the college has participated in the annual event, which gathers data on homeless individuals in Pierce County to improve services.

The volunteer opportunity was arranged through the college's Service Learning department, which promotes community engagement.

“The response from students was very positive,” said Emily Feleen, Service Learning program specialist. “It was an eye-opening experience for many of them. Some commented on the sheer numbers—seeing hundreds of people gathered at a shelter for a hot meal made them realize how far-reaching the problem is.”

Using an app downloaded from Pierce County, students interviewed people at two locations: the Tacoma Rescue Mission and the Nativity House Day Shelter.

“Students approached people and asked if they were willing to participate in the survey,” said Feleen. “Some didn’t, but many were willing to because we explained that the information is used to help Pierce County provide more services to homeless individuals.”

Among those volunteering was the entire Pierce College women’s basketball team.

“We just wanted to serve,” said Ariassa Wilson, team coach and TRiO retention manager for Pierce College. “We understand we are fortunate in so many ways. It was an amazing, humbling experience. Seeing these people at the Rescue Mission – how kind and polite they were to one another, how grateful they were to us for being there was just very inspiring.”

Feleen added, “Some of the people were ex-military as were some of our student volunteers, so they could relate to one another.”

“We had a lot of conversation around encouraging students to stay on the right path,” said Wilson.

Service Learning schedules one community volunteer opportunity per month. They get the word out through social media and by reaching out to faculty and students. Last fall alone, students contributed more than 300 volunteer hours through service learning projects.

“I think of service learning as real-world community engagement, building on the learning students are already doing here,” said Feleen. “We’re a community college, so being involved in the community and helping others is a natural fit for our students.

“Working with faculty, we try to embed service learning into the curriculum.  All are welcome. It’s a great opportunity to do something meaningful.”

For more information on Service Learning opportunities, visit the department web page.