Petite Powerhouse Nejat Kassahun Helps the Homeless Through Foundation Scholarship

By Janice Anderson Gallagher

Nejat KassahunWhile it is true that dynamite comes in small packages, that also rings true of the powerful passion, drive and love that a certain petite powerhouse possesses when it comes to her commitment to helping the homeless and the less fortunate. Ms. Nejat Kassahun, now a sophomore at the University of Colorado Boulder (CU) is one of the most recent and worthy 2015 recipients of an Alternate Spring Break (ASB) scholarship stipend provided by the Casey Feldman Foundation. The stipend took Nejat to Cincinnati where she worked with the homeless.

Each ASB scholarship stipend from the Foundation (anywhere from $500 to $700) is based on financial need and covers the basic expenses of the trip for each student, transportation (by motor vehicle), food and lodging. For Nejat, as with all of the recipients, the ASB trip would not have been possible otherwise.

Nejat is one of six children in a family where finances have always been an issue, aggravated the last few few years by her father’s chronic kidney disease which has left him unable to work. The first generation from from her family to attend college, Nejat has been afforded the opportunity  through grants and a few small scholarhips. Despite commuting on the bus almost two hours each day to get to campus to study in her major of integrative physiology, Nejat is somehow still able to satisfy her equally deep seated passion for volunteering.

Even before her alternative spring break experiences, countless underprivileged and in-crisis people had benefited from the time and energy Nejat devoted to assisting at the Food Bank of the Rockies; working with children at the Mission Viejo Elementary School in Aurora; and volunteering at the Ansar Pantry where she provides food to the homeless and needy.  But her practically relentless drive to give-back doesn’t stop there.

Nejat painting at Tender Mercies, a homeless center in Cincinnati

Nejat painting at Tender Mercies, a homeless center in Cincinnati

There is no doubt that by the time spring break arrives, every college student has rightfully earned a little time-off to decompress and re-energize; to spend time with friends and family or to just chill. Some might have the financial means to relax far away on a sunny tropical beach or blaze trails on snowbaords down pine and aspen-lined ski slopes, but for Nejat, she was able to spend her week in a way which according to her, really has “made all the difference.”

“My Alternative Spring Break was one of the best decisions I ever made. I am thankful that this wonderful opportunity knocked on my door and that I answered it.”  Nejat spent her week off from classes doing what she loves most.

In Cincinnati on her ABS trip, Kassahun worked with the Cincinnati Homeless Coalition and StreetVibes. Nejat served meals to the homeless in the soup kitchen at St. Joseph’s Cathedral, and at St. Joseph’s Workers House she engaged with people struggling with drug and alcohol dependencies. At a center for the homeless and mentally ill called Tender Mercies, Nejat busied herself by providing a fresh coat of paint that no doubt refreshed and brought new energy to the center.

Nejat and her fellow volunteers made the front page of StreetVibes for their work with the homeless

Nejat and her fellow volunteers made the front page of StreetVibes for their work with the homeless

While such a routine might seem daunting, Nejat’s ‘journey of giving’ continued and took her to the FreeStore FoodBank and then to the Interfaith Workers Center where she petitioned against wage theft and experienced first-hand how others either embraced or rejected her and her colleagues’ efforts. “My perception changed even more during this trip. I definitely always try not to make assumptions without really knowing [the issues] because we don’t know the story of others. I want to educate and teach friends and family what I learned about homelessness and how it’s wrong to automatically assume negative encounters will occur when dealing with the homeless.”

And while countless others are grateful and have benefited from her hard work and many sacrifices, the humble Nejat is thankful that she was granted a scholarship to work with and help the less fortunate. “I didn’t only become more knowledgeable but I made wonderful friends and will forever keep this experience and memories with me! This was a life changing experience and I am very thankful for this amazing opportunity!”

Donate to the Casey Feldman Foundation so that other deserving students may experience an Alternative Spring Break. 

Related Links:

“Alternative Spring Break Scholarships Fostering a Generation Who Wants to Give Back“,   Nov. 2014  (Casey Feldman Foundation) 

About the Alternative Spring Break Program (CU Volunteer Resource Center)

Casey Feldman Foundation Alternative Spring Break Blog News (scroll down through for all articles)

Nejat Kassahun, 2nd from left, with scholarship recipients Colin Mayberry (PIIE 2013), Priyanka Guragain (ASB 2014), Ramya Palaniappan (PIIE 2015) & Jamie Haller (ASB 2012) at the Feldman home in August

Nejat Kassahun, 2nd from left, with scholarship recipients Colin Mayberry (PIIE 2013), Priyanka Guragain (ASB 2014), Ramya Palaniappan (PIIE 2015) & Jamie Haller (ASB 2012) at the Feldman home in August

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janice (2)Janice Anderson Gallagher is a retired high school teacher and the aunt of the late Casey Feldman.

 

 

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