Scholarship Recipient Helps the Homeless in Seattle

By Morgan Steward*

Kiara Chavez

Kiara Chavez, a student in the Leeds School of Business at the University of Colorado, has a hectic life. In addition to being a full time student, the sophomore somehow also finds time in her schedule to volunteer, tutor and work in order to support herself. This year, Chavez was looking for a way to do something impactful with her spring break vacation and turned to the Casey Feldman Foundation. She applied and became one of our Alternative Spring Break scholarship recipients, traveling to Seattle, Washington to learn about youth in poverty and help build tiny homes for the homeless.

In order to provide for herself and her two sisters, Chavez’s parents moved from Mexico to the United States. Though her parents did not get the chance to attain a college degree themselves, they stressed the importance of education to Chavez. She combined this passion, along with her desire to help others, and began her first volunteer venture: tutoring younger neighborhood kids. Chavez continued to serve as a volunteer tutor in her community through high school, eventually branching out to helping in the local elementary school as well. To this day, Chavez still finds time to regularly tutor the children for whom she babysits.

As a ninth grade student, Chavez got the opportunity to travel with a group called Students Today, Leaders Tomorrow to volunteer in Utah. The program had a two-fold purpose: to enhance the participants’ leadership skills while also teaching them the importance of helping those around them. Since that moment, Chavez has desired to go on other volunteer trips to help communities in need, but was never able to do to the cost. When she found out about the Foundation’s alternative spring break program, Chavez knew she had to apply. “The life that Casey Feldman led is a fantastic reflection of how much positive change one person can be responsible for,” she said. “I have always believed in the power of volunteering as a mechanism to bringing positive change to people who truly need it.”

Chavez travelled to Seattle, Washington to partner with the Low Income Housing Institute (LIHI), an organization that, according to their website, “develops, owns and operates housing for the benefit of low-income, homeless and formerly homeless people in Washington State; advocates for just housing policies at the local and national levels; and administers a range of supportive service programs to assist those we serve in maintaining stable housing and increasing their self-sufficiency.”

The students worked with the LIHI to build a village of tiny homes for people were homeless. In addition to physically building the homes, the students met with community leaders to learn about the various issues that impact the homeless and had the chance to interact and provide educational opportunities to homeless youth.

“The alternative break served as an amazing opportunity to understand a new perspective on youth in poverty,” Chavez said of her trip. For her, the hardest part of the trip was not the manual labor, but seeing others struggle.

While on the trip, Chavez had the opportunity to spend some time with some of the inhabitants of the tiny houses—those conversations turned onto her most memorable moments. “I found it fascinating to learn about their experiences, and at the same time it was heartwarming to see them doing better and being appreciative of where they currently are. Everything was very real in that the people did not have a big movie ending, and they still have their personalities related to their experiences. It helped keep me from looking at them as anything other than people who could easily be my friend or family member. There was no movie ending in which everything was perfect, but most of the people there found that having a place to live was the first step in getting their life back.”

Chavez returned from the trip determined to raise more awareness for the issue in her own community. She talked to her friends and family about what she learned from the experience and pledged to start taking direct action in helping the homeless of Boulder. Her action started small. “I did small things like take the food from school events to the homeless community in Colorado,” she recounted, but hopes to accomplish bigger things in the future.

“I truly appreciated this experience. Learning more about myself and the community in Boulder left an impact on me that I will take with me for the rest of my life,” she said. Chavez thinks that Casey would be proud of what the students accomplished in Seattle and thinks Casey would have enjoyed the trip as well. “I would not doubt that Casey Feldman would have enjoyed spending her time learning about the community in Seattle. Our volunteer work with the community would have enhanced her understanding of the community she helped at the West End Homeless Shelter in NYC.”

One of the tiney houses built for the homeless in Seattle

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*Morgan Steward is a junior Communication and Media Studies student at Fordham University at Lincoln Center (Casey’s alma mater). Born in Beaumont, TX, she to moved to New York City to pursue a career in the media. She is the Editor-in-Chief of The Observer, Fordham’s student newspaper (where Casey was the News Editor).

 

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