April 5, 2019
By Laura Reindl
For freshman nursing student Maeve Kelly, cooking and baking have always been a source of comfort and fond memories. She grew up watching Emeril Lagasse on television with her mom, who also loves to cook. Even now she spends a lot of her school breaks in her kitchen at home, baking Christmas cookies and her great-grandmother's cinnamon rolls, a long-lost recipe that her great aunt recently rediscovered.
So when Kelly got to Binghamton and joined the Hinman Public Service Learning Community (PSLC), a residential community for students who want to make a difference through service-learning courses and volunteering, she was excited to share her passion for cooking and baking with residents at the Binghamton Rescue Mission, an organization that provides shelter, meals, employment resources and other support services for men who have previously experienced homelessness.
Under the leadership of Al Vos, the collegiate professor of Hinman College, the PSLC has worked closely with the director of the Rescue Mission (and Binghamton alumna), Jessica Stanis MSW/MPA '15 to cultivate a close partnership that provides opportunities throughout the academic year for students to participate in meaningful direct service, fundraising and advocacy efforts to benefit the organization.
During the fall semester, Kelly and other PSLC students organized social activities with the residents of the Rescue Mission, like movie nights and pumpkin painting parties; showed support for the residents at their annual Hope Awards, which showcases residents' successes in overcoming personal challenges; raised over $800 for the organization during an overnight advocacy event on campus called the Sleep Out; and also took turns cooking and sharing meals with the residents, which Kelly particularly enjoyed.
"I immediately fell in love with it," says Kelly. "It's just an amazing experience to work with all of the residents there, and it's so welcoming and everyone is so kind. It's a really special place, and I just wanted to work there more."
With the start of the spring semester, Kelly found the perfect opportunity to spend more time at the Rescue Mission. She signed up for a service-learning course associated with the PSLC, called HDEV 116, Practicum in Community Service, which included a requirement that students work with a local nonprofit organization to learn about local socio-cultural issues.
Kelly's experiences with the Rescue Mission during the fall semester provided valuable insight as she planned her class project. She recalled hearing Rescue Mission residents speak with students about their experiences with homelessness during the Sleep Out event in October.
"We asked some of the residents that came to talk to us what they wanted to see from us, and they said, 'Let us help, too. We don't always want to always be the ones just receiving.'" So Kelly decided that rather than just cooking meals for the residents, she would ask for their input — were there meals that had special significance to them, brought back good memories or that they just hadn't had in a while? She also planned to invite residents to help cook the meals if they would like to.
"With Maeve's idea, what is really cool is that it involves the clients in the process," says Stanis. "It gives them a say. It's a group effort, and it's a really good way to get to know the clients, and for the clients to get to know the students. It breaks down any sort of power dynamics that might be there."
Stanis also says the fact that Kelly and the other student volunteers join the residents for the meal makes a big difference. "It's such a meaningful experience. It shows that they care by taking that extra step — by simply asking how the guys are doing, how their day was, and getting to know the residents in our program. It really goes a long way for some of our residents."
Kelly prepared the first meal of her project in March, and has a few more planned this semester. She is already seeing how food can bring people together.
"I talked to one of the residents who was a chef for 30 years. I had no idea, but he came up and talked to me about it last time I was there," she says. "I think [the giver/receiver dynamic] creates stigmas a lot of times, and I think that in general, a lot of hatred or stereotypes just come from not knowing someone. The most important thing is just to create connections with people. If you know someone, it's really hard to dislike them, and you learn about other people, and you learn that everyone's more alike than they are different."
Photos: Banner-Al Vos and Hinman PLSC students prepare a meal at the Rescue Mission. Middle-Maeve Kelly (right) prepares a meal with the Hinman PSLC. Bottom (left to right)-Jerry Sheng and Carrie Tuczinski help Kelly prepare chicken parmesan for the residents of the Rescue Mission.