Dickinson College sophomore, Stephanie Applegate, is a double major concentrating on public policy and Spanish. As part of her public policy curriculum, she stayed at Carlisle CARES homeless shelter in central Pennsylvania. Over the course of two weeks, Stephanie and her classmates each gathered enough blankets to keep warm and set out to sleep on the floor of a church with about 50 of the area's homeless population. They each had one or two homeless guides who volunteered to talk about their situation.
Applegate, like many of her classmates, was shocked to learn that very few of the folks she stayed with fit the description of homelessness that she had in her mind. Stephanie commented, "Meeting the people at CARES was definitely an eye opener. There wasn't a single person I met that deserved it."
The concept that people experiencing homelessness choose it, or deserve it, is pretty pervasive. Even Applegate's homeless guide, Brittany Rummel thought that, "The way I felt about the homeless before I was homeless and now completely changed. It's not just the old stinky guy. It's more people like me."
What's most interesting about people like Rummel is that she used to be people like Applegate. After spending the night together in the church, Applegate, Rummel and several other young people walked to a neighborhood soup kitchen for breakfast. Applegate and her classmates couldn't eat at the kitchen because there weren't actually homeless, but they could continue their conversation. It was at My Brother's Table that Rummel and Applegate discovered that they'd gone to elementary school together.
A year apart in age, Rummel and Applegate both attended John C. Kunkle Elementary School in Middletown, Pennsylvania. They lived less then a mile apart. They had the same friends. They played in the same parks. Rummel and Applegate were both "jeans and t-shirt" little girls. They remember loving recess and play with the school's hula-hoops. They don't remember each other. But they vividly remember a day at Kunkle with intense clarity. They remember September 11, 2001 and their eerily intact memory of how the school handled the century's greatest national crisis was how they knew they knew each other.
Since 2001, Applegate and Rummel have lived markedly different lives. Rummel's single mom moved out of the mobile home park in Middleton in an attempt to provide a better home for her family. Her mom's situation never stabilized and by 16, Rummel was in foster care. When she turned 18, she signed herself out of her group home to get away from constant ill treatment and abuse.
Living on her own Rummel found the time to finish high school and later became a baker. Rummel hoped to open her own bakery. Within a few months she learned she was pregnant. Her son's father is a good dad and has physical custody while Rummel finds her way. Rummel works full time making $9 an hour for a temp agency. She wants to get her feet back under her. She wants to provide the home for her son that her mother couldn't provide for her. One thing she really wants -- that she hasn't dared dream about -- is a degree in marine biology. Rummel wants to tackle really big issues. She wants to work with whales. But, even though she started in the same school with Applegate and had great grades in high school, Rummel's not in college.
Applegate's never been in a group home. She'd never been in a homeless shelter until Professor Hoefler invited her to go. Applegate's only moved once and it was because her parents bought a nicer bigger home. When Applegate was asked what she thinks the biggest difference is between herself and her similarly friendly, equally hardworking, very intelligent homeless guide, Applegate responded, "Stability. I spent my whole life in the same school district. I only moved once and it was to live in a bigger house."
Rummel sees herself as a college student one day, "When my son is older."
Applegate thinks that "Would be awesome." Applegate thinks that if Rummel can get the education she wants and needs to get away from her temp agency low wage job, then, "Maybe our lives would turn out more the same."
On Monday Applegate and the other Dickinson students will host a luncheon to thank their homeless guides. Applegate hopes Rummel can attend. Rummel works overnights but promised to wake up in time. Between now and then, Rummel's going to look into a program offered by Wilson College about 40 miles south of the shelter where she lives. They have a good science program and they have one of the nation's few programs that takes moms with their children. Each kid even gets a little cap and gown and walks on stage with his or her mom when she get's her diploma.
Applegate said goodbye to Rummel, "I hope I see you Monday. And I want to hear about Wilson College."
Perhaps dreams need stability and someone to help you dream them.
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