My Contributions to the UHCSC Capstone Team

For the end of our Capstone class, we’ve been asked to document all of the ways in which we contributed to the Upstate Homeless Coalition of South Carolina.  I can honestly say that I’ve put more heart and soul into this project and class then I have in any other class of my four years at Clemson University.

My experience with this class started out a semester before the actual class met for the first time.  I, along with 4 of my classmates, met with Dr. David Novak in December to discuss the class and possible ways that we could help the Upstate Homeless Coalition.  Ideas were thrown around and possible ways to organize groups was also discussed.  Over Christmas break, I researched the UHCSC by joining their Facebook group, looking at their Web site, and signing up for their free newsletter.  I noticed that the UHCSC puts on an annual ball every February to help raise money.

Once our class met on January 7, 2010, it seemed as though everyone was ready to get to business.  We read the book on homelessness and communication called, “Who Is My Neighbor” by Phillip Tompkins and reflected on Tomkin’s experiences with homeless people and shelters.   We also talked about the Bridesmaid’s Ball and received the contact information for the volunteer chair.  I immediately invited my friends to volunteer with me and sent the names to Annette at the UHCSC.  I also was able to get Toussaint Law Firm (the firm where I intern) to donate tickets to the circus for the Bridesmaid’s Ball silent auction.  At the auction, my friends and I helped with the silent auction along with adding fun moves to the dance floor!

In my social media group, I took over the UHCSC Twitter account along with Lauren Patterson.  We tweeted daily during the week about upcoming events, interesting facts about homelessness, and news about the UHCSC.  I wrote the “How-To” guide for Twitter for whoever takes over the project at the Upstate Homeless Coalition.  The guide included how to log on to Twitter, post, and different aspects that will help raise awareness of the UHCSC. 

I also helped Beckman Perry with the UHCSC blog.  I uploaded a post once a week to help build the blog.  I helped promote the blog through the Twitter account. 

 During the fundraising week, I ate at several targeted restaurants to raise money for the UHCSC.  I bought a Battle of the Bands t-shirt and attended the Battle of the Bands event at 356.  I brought along a few friends and gave them stickers to wear for the event. 

I truly think have enjoyed the time that I’ve spent working and helping the Upstate Homeless Coalition this semester.  I feel so blessed to have been part of this awesome project.

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One Car Accident Away from Homelessness, Three Children Away from Hope.

I recently interviewed Celena Ferguson who used the Upstate Homeless Coalition of South Carolina to win her fight against homelessness.  Below is the interview and Ms. Ferguson’s answers.

  1. How old were you when you became homeless?  I was at the age of 24 when I became homeless without my own home.  I lived with my friend.   I say homeless because my name was not on the lease.  I got a job at Greenville hospital system, this was in 1999.
  2. What was the one thing that put you into homelessness?  I had a car accident within my 90 day probationary period at the hospital, and because I missed two days, at the end of my 90 days they decided not to keep me-even though I came to work on crutches, and I also had therapy sessions, but came to work before and after those sessions.
  3. Did you have children?  How old were your children?  Yes I had at that time, 3 children, my baby had just turned 1 yrs old and had to have hernia surgery prior to my getting employment at GHS.  At that time my oldest was 8 and my middle was 6.
  4. What did you do when you became homeless?  What did I do when I realized I had no more options? The thought of suicide came, then I thought well if I kill  myself, who would take care of my children.  Then, I thought well I will just kill us all, but that wouldn’t be fair to my children because I was messed up, What if they became famous and were destined to do great things for God.  I was basically almost out of my mind, so many bad thoughts, so many tears, so many apologies to my children, and I asked myself what was I going to do? I had to do something my children depend on me to take care of them.  No one could ever imagine how a real mother feels when she’s all out of answers but there are so many questions.  My car was totaled in the car accident, so I didn’t have transportation to go look for a job, couldn’t take kids to a job interview.  It just seems like the world crash upon my head.
  5. How long did it take you to contact the Upstate Homeless Coalition and how did you hear about the UHCSC?  I didn’t want to take my children to a homeless shelter, because, like others I didn’t know what to expect. But, after two months of living in a hotel off my last two paychecks, the money was gone, I went to the downtown rescue mission in Spartanburg, SC.  Which was the best thing I could’ve ever done.  I was still apologizing to my children and they were like what for we got a big family now, they were happy.  I didn’t have to worry about how they were going to eat.  My middle child went to school and told her teacher that we lived in a big house with a cross on it, and we had a new big family, but me being ashamed told them never to tell anyone where we lived.  But one day the shame left, and I was proud of the choice I made because it showed me life in a new way, all those people I bent over backwards for to help financially they all turned their backs on me, and not only me but my children when I needed them the most.  I have forgiven them all, and realize that everything in life does happen for a reason, it brought me closer to God.   I stayed at the shelter for almost a year, In that time, I got a job, and was saving my money, I got a car, and one of the ladies that came to do bible study with us, she told me about the Upstate Homeless Coalition, I called and in 1 week, Glenda contacted me back and gave me instructions of what I needed at the time of my appointment.  At that time they had an office inside the Haven on Church Street across from Wofford College, and within about 1 month we were in our own place again.  We packed our bags and with no furniture we went and slept on the floor and danced around and thanked God for how he had blessed us with our own place again.
  6. How did the UHC help you out?  The upstate homeless coalition, puts you on a budget plan, they take you to Walmart to buy things you need for kitchen bathroom and bedroom.  They furnish you with $100.00 of groceries when you move in.  They helped with furniture.  They paid utility, you were responsible for part of your rent based on pay, and your phone bill.  The transitional program is awesome they even assisted with daycare if you didn’t qualify through your local DSS.  It teaches you how to manage, and to pay old debts off so that you could obtain homeownership when leaving the program. 
  7. What is the one thing that helped you get out of homelessness?  The one thing that helped me come out of homelessness was my children.  I can’t tell them that they could be anything or doing anything their hearts desired if I didn’t be an example of that,  If I gave up they would give up.  And giving up is not an options, not even now.
  8. What do you do now?  I now work back at Greenville Hospital System, and have been in the medical field since then.  I also do hair at a Barber Shop in Greer, I have a business license, under that license I create Gift Baskets.  I am also working on a few other projects.  I was doing Bible Studies at the  Miracle Hills Homeless shelter for 3yrs until my work schedule changed and their times changed, I do a Bible Study at Ellen Hines Girls Home, and on-call for  Anchor House transitional home for teens.  I also work with the youth in my Church.  And any chance I get I stop and witness to a homeless person whether male of female.  I will never forget nor look down at anyone who is going through homelessness, because you don’t know their story, and never say that it will never be you.
  9. What are your children doing now?  My children, my son attends Newberry College in pre law program, My middle daughter attends Eastside High she will be graduating next year, she wants to become a massage therapist, our plans are to open a state of the art salon and spa.  My baby girl goes to Greenville Academy and she plans to become a Veterinarian.
  10. If you could give one piece of advice to  people who are currently homeless, what would it be?  My advice to someone who is homeless: Stop blaming others, take responsibility for all actions and decisions you’ve made whether good or bad.  Look over your life and pull out all the positive and leave the negative behind.  Don’t look for anyone to keep giving you hand-outs you’ve got to want it so bad that you will reach your goals the right way, and it will give you that drive to succeed, take the negative in you and that others throw at you and take a step higher on each negative thought, this is not your end this is your beginning to succeed in life.  And if you don’t do it for you, do it for your children they deserve it.  Our kids have had to see us sad, they’ve seen us cry so many tears, they’ve seen us work like dogs, make it for them, so that we all can have a better life. Not just to be rich and famous, but just to live and be happy, not to say we will never cry again, but we want be crying for the same reason.
  11. Any other words that you would like others to know?   Everyone who is homeless has not been on drugs, or prison, or prostitution, this is the concept that a lot of people have.  It is true when they say don’t judge a book by its cover.  When I was homeless, I didn’t act like I was homeless, I didn’t dress like I was homeless, My motto is, “ To never look like what you are going through.”  The only way people knew was when I told them and I was not ashamed anymore and I would tell people don’t pity my situation, they couldn’t understand why I could smile, if they only knew I had already cried enough.

Outside My Euphoric Bubble

Yesterday, one of things that we talked about in class was raising awareness of homelessness in the Clemson community.  To be honest, I have never seen a homeless person in Clemson- and I’ve been here for four years.  Dr. David Novak said that if the Clemson Police Department wouldn’t mind, he would have a few of my classmates pretend to be homeless and sit outside Sikes Hall.  For those of you who don’t know, Sikes Hall sits on the side of a major road that runs through Clemson University’s campus. 

 As I visualized this scenario in my head, I tried to think of what thoughts would run thr0ugh my mind if I saw a group of homeless students sitting on the side of the road in Clemson.  It definitely would raise my awareness of homelessness.  It would also remind me that other issues occur outside of this euphoric bubble that I’ve been living in for the past four years.  As a college student, I’m most worried about my next graded paper, how much time I have to squeeze in a relaxing run, and what bars my friends are going to on Friday nights.  This capstone class has started to open my eyes to bigger, worldly issues- and I like it.

Going Home.

As I sit with four of my best friends in the freezing cold waiting in line for basketball tickets, my fingers and toes feel as though they could fall off at any moment.  The difference between how I feel right now and how homeless people feel every night in this weather is that in about 4 hours, when the next shift comes, I will be able to go home.  My home will be warmly heated, my bed will have multiple blankets to warm my tootsies, and I will have hot apple cider to sooth my throat.  While I’m waiting in the cold because of choice, I doubt any homeless person chooses to sleep in the cold on purpose.

I’m going to write more about my thoughts on our class discussion today, but my fingers are locking up.

Defining Homelessness

This past Thursday was my first senior capstone class of the semester.  We’re going to study homelessness and communication as we work alongside the Upstate Homeless Coalition of South Carolina.  I was given the privilege to meet with a few of my classmates as well as our professor, Dr. David Novak, before Christmas break to discuss ways that our class can help the UHCSC.  A few ideas thrown around included fundraisers, volunteer work, analyzing data about homelessness, and helping out with social media efforts.  I would enjoy working in all of these areas, but volunteer work and helping out with social media efforts peaked my interest the most.

On our first day of class, David discussed the seriousness of the class and provided us with a recent article about the death of an upstate homeless man.  The man was living in a tent on the side of I-85.  The article touched me because the busy interstate is one that I take frequently to get to my warm, safe, healthy home.  Our class also discussed stereotypes and misconceptions that most people have about homeless people.  It was amazing to me how many of my classmates openly shared stereotypes that they’d learned by being part of society.  I usually think of stereotyping as negative, but in this class, I guess open, honest opinions are happily welcomed.  Listening to other’s be so honest about homeless people allowed me to think of one of my true feelings about homeless people.  I am scared.  I know that being scared is judgemental and I hope that this class will help me overcome my fear.

We also discussed the definition of homelessness:

  • Are you homeless if you live in a car?
  • Are you homeless if you live on the side of a road in a tent?
  • Are you homeless if you live in your aunt and uncle’s basement?

I would love to hear how you define homelessness.  I hope to keep you updated on my class’ progress with the UHCSC.  I feel as though it’s going to be a tough, yet very rewarding experience.  I look forward to your comments and suggestions.