As Simple as Saying Hello
When a retired police officer shared that several people who are homeless in the community freeze to death every year, Dawn Broers—a Walden University PhD in Social Work student and recent Scholar of Change video contest winner—knew she had to act. The longtime social worker, who lives just south of Chicago, began building new partnerships with local agencies and community organizations.
Before long, she founded Fortitude Canteen Outreach and developed a Facebook profile to start connecting with community members in Kankakee County to provide services and support to the homeless. After launching a campaign in January, she was met with success: More than 30 people showed up to the group’s first event.
The group provides opportunities to serve people in need for a few hours each week. Volunteers hand out donations such as toothbrushes, granola bars, and clothing, and connect individuals to resources in their community—but more often than not, they simply listen.
“Our goal is to build relationships,” Broers explains. “By knowing people’s names and listening to their stories, our volunteers are able to truly understand their day-to-day struggles. These conversations change volunteers’ perspectives about how people become homeless—they are good people who have different journeys, and most have experienced repeated trauma that forever impacts their lives.”
Fortitude Canteen Outreach asks that volunteers help to meet the various needs of individuals. “They also realize it doesn’t take a lot to make a difference,” she says. In other words, a conversation is often all that’s needed. Broers realizes that by building relationships, individuals will begin asking for help connecting to resources, like housing and benefits.
She hopes to increase the organization’s outreach by leading events in other areas and by obtaining sponsorships or regular support from local organizations or churches. She also plans to strengthen her team of volunteers. “My goal is to have several people who can lead the weekly events,” she says.
Advocating for change is part of her profession. “I’ve always been very proud to call myself a social worker. It means I’m a change agent. Walden not only reinforces that, but asks that we use the knowledge we’re gaining not only to help ourselves, but also to improve the world around us.”
“The Scholars of Change contest shows me every year that social change can happen in our backyards,” she says. “I’m thrilled that by winning, it will bring increased awareness about our local activism. I also hope that my video inspires others to create social change in their communities.”
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