A handful of teens from local Interact clubs launched “3 Rays of Hope” solutions to homelessness, a hot issue for Oakland and other East Bay leaders. Interact Area 1 Director, Matthew Yep, along with Aaron Chu (pictured here), and a group of Interact Rotarians , presented the results of their Under One Roof project to the Rotary Club of Oakland in August. Their small group of teens built a home and delivered self-care products to 200 homeless people in Oakland with hopes to inspire city leaders in their ongoing efforts to educate communities on this topic through discussion and a video.
WHAT IS INTERACT?
Interact is for youth ages 12-18 who want to connect with other young people to serve their communities. An Interact club is a school-based service club, sponsored by one or more local Rotary clubs. Interact clubs often join forces with other Interact clubs to expand their impact.
Teresa Weyand of The Rotary Club of Oakland interviewed Interactors Matthew Yep and Aaron Chu from the Alameda High School Interact club, about their experience on this project, Under One Roof.
Oakland Rotary: What did you learn? Where there any “aha” moments or personal epiphanies?
Interact: One of the “aha” moments was hearing the variation in stories about how each person became homeless. Seeing a video of a homeless person is not the same as actually meeting homeless people and recognizing their dignity as human beings. We agreed that action was necessary to make a difference and feel that we accomplished that education and outreach. A house is so important – basic needs must be met before homeless individuals can attempt to look for a job or access resources. Another “aha” moment was seeing a home we built go to one homeless woman we met named Jude. It made a tangible difference in her life. She commented to us:
I had the wrong impression about homelessness. Before I was homeless, I used to think that if you just worked or got up off the sidewalk and went and got help, you’d be fine. But that just note the case. Not all homeless people are drunks or addicts, and a lot of people just don’t understand that. But it’s people like you and your organization that make this world a better place.
Oakland Rotary: Aaron, please elaborate on the “3 rays of hope” concept that evolved from this project.
Interact: The initial launch of the project involved Interact and adult Rotarians. The first ray of hope was Breaking the Stigma of Homelessness and presenting homeless people as unique individuals, with unique stories. We held benefit shows and dinners, and encouraged Interactors to give speeches and share what their firsthand experience with homeless people had taught them.
The second ray of hope involved Preventing Homelessness. That action was building a house for Jude, a homeless woman, using upcycled wood. The experience was invaluable because we actually got to know and spend time with Jude. We wanted to build the house well enough that someone else could use it when she no longer had a need.
The third ray of hope was Aid in Need, which was specific to Alameda High. We went through our homes and took unused, surplus toiletries and assembled care packages. 120 members collaborated with other schools and when the day of the project arrived, we had about 100 care packages to personally distribute to homeless people in our community. After distribution, when we resumed building, every nail in that house was pounded with purpose.
Oakland Rotary: Why do you feel this project was right for Interact?
Interact: As members of Interact we try to put the Rotary motto of “Service Above Self” into action. We take that to heart. We want to serve others. Homelessness and the problems surrounding it have been around longer than we have been alive, but San Francisco and Oakland have so many homeless people. Our goal to help others was met through this project.
Oakland Rotary: Do you have any follow up plans?
We conduct a month of service in November where our school, Alameda High School, commits to one small project to work on for a whole month. Our plan is to follow up on this project by building a “coat drive” that we will use to help local homeless people.
At the Interact presentation, the Oakland Rotary Club congratulated the Interactors on their Under One Roof project. They successfully served the most disadvantaged members of their community, and worked to inspire others to renew efforts to push for real solutions to the homeless crisis.
For more information on Interact Clubs in general, visit www.rotary.org/en/get-involved/interact-clubs.