An Ahwatukee professor at Arizona State University is so passionate about his project to help homeless people in downtown Phoenix that he even got his chiropractor to join his effort.
As the founder and director of ASU’s Project Humanities, Neal Lester, Foundation Professor of English, has recruited dozens of volunteers to collect used clothing, shoes, toiletries and other essentials and then help homeless people “go shopping” for the items every other Saturday downtown.
Among his recruits is Angela Christopher of AZ Spine & Disc in Ahwatukee, who helped drive a “phenomenal” collection of bottled water through Ahwatukee 411.
He also has found help from Desert Vista High School’s Rho Kappa Social Studies Honor Society, with faculty and parents joining in.
“At one point, we had over 20 students and their parents volunteering,” Lester said, adding that Christopher’s “whole team has been collecting things for us and they had a water/sunscreen/hat drive this past month.”
And even though school is out for summer recess, “a lot of the students again came from Desert Vista High” on Saturday, June 3, to assist the latest distribution effort. Lester said that while the president of Desert Vista’s social studies honors society has graduated, “he introduced me to a vice president, and they’re going to try to keep that tradition of community service through our outreach.”
Project Humanities’ year-round outreach to the homeless occurs 6:45-8:15 a.m. every other Saturday on South 12th Avenue between West Jefferson and West Madison streets. The next outreach is June 17, and while it has been going on for three years, volunteers are always needed.
“We had about 29 volunteers from across the Valley assisting 117 homeless people Saturday,” Lester said.
Among them were Ray Bennett and Javier Rosa of the Diving Devil Dogs, a group that helps veterans suffering from PTSD, whom the outreach also helps.
The object of the outreach is “to aid those in need of basic life amenities and to do so compassionately, respectfully and efficiently,” Lester said, noting each homeless person is paired with a volunteer who helps them select three to five items.
The outreach is an example of Project Humanities’ effort to put principles into action.
“We created programming around principles, that we call Humanity 101: compassion, empathy, forgiveness, integrity, kindness, respect and self-reflection,” he said. “The initiative is not just to create a classroom discussion about these principles, but also to put these principles into action.”
Noting previous efforts that collected 400 pairs of shoes and 5,000 bottles of water, he added, “Whether they realize it or not, everyone has something to contribute in revitalizing our community’s humanity.”
The outreach also enables volunteers “to interact closely with those experiencing homelessness, and many find the result to be rewarding as well as enjoyable,” a Project Humanities spokesman said, adding:.
“The overarching goal of ASU Project Humanities and Humanity 101 is to connect people from different backgrounds while bringing humanity to those in need; the homeless outreach plays an important role in accomplishing this goal, as we are all, in a sense, a part of the same community.”
Lester said the outreach is “something everyone can participate in on some level,” whether it involves donating items or helping to distribute them.
Volunteers for the Saturday events “should be dressed appropriately and come with an open mind and spirit to help distribute donations and to offer some human kindness,” he said.
Information on donating and volunteering: 480-727-7030 or firstname.lastname@example.org 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Friday. projecthumanities.asu.edu/content/service-saturdays-0