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In the Community

Public Health Scholars Step in to Help DC Residents without Homes

Students working in DC communities, all year long

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AU student volunteers cut and package food at Thrive DC

Every Wednesday, first-year American University Public Health Scholars volunteer for Thrive DC, which works to prevent and end homelessness in Washington, DC, by providing vulnerable people with a wide range of services to help stabilize their lives. This year so far, Thrive DC has distributed more than 40,500 grocery boxes and assisted 4,000 women, men, and children.

The AU public health scholars put together grocery bags of food, make snack bags to be given out on the streets, and organize hygiene donations, filling bags with travel-sized toiletries. They sort clothing donations and coats for the annual coat drive. And they even sort the mail: Thrive DC is an “address” for people suffering from homelessness and allows their mail to be delivered to their facility.

Martinique Free, director of AU’s Public Health Program, says this work gives students an opportunity to participate directly in improving the health of DC residents. “Students can apply theories learned in their Introduction to Public Health course to actual field situations,” she explains. “Students are forever changed by this transformative learning experience, as it allows them to see their community in new ways through a solution-oriented lens.”

First-year Public Health Scholar Lauren “Noonie” Baisley loves going to Thrive DC because she can see the impact of her work. “Thrive DC really works to get people suffering from homelessness back on their feet and provide them with resources that will give them opportunities and options for the future,” she says. “As someone who grew up with these opportunities laid out for me, being able to provide these options for others is very impactful and has changed my outlook on life in DC.”

Conner Gil, also a first-year Public Health Scholar and a sociology minor, believes that Thrive DC serves as a crucial community pillar in helping those who are homeless to build back stronger. “This service-learning opportunity has allowed me to grow my connections with the homeless community and understand what it means on a hands-on level,” he says. “I appreciate the chance to help others and make an impact through volunteering. It has helped me — through my own experience, work, and self-reflection — to grow as an individual.”