Neal Lester of Ahwatukee, ASU Foundation Professor of English
Arizona State University Photo Archive

The clothing on our backs, the shoes on our feet, the toothpaste in our bathrooms – all these things that people have and tend to take for granted.

This is something that we individuals might recognize in order to support those who do not have the items we deem as ready essentials. Almost everyone has clothes or shoes that they no longer wear but are still in good condition.

These are precisely the items that organizations look for when asking for donations to support those experiencing homelessness. And all it takes is a little closet cleaning to search for those items – which are probably of no use to you but can make a whole world of difference for someone else.

As a high school student, I am familiar with the importance of community service and the emphasis placed on it by student clubs and organizations.

When I chose Project Humanities at Arizona State University as a summer internship site, I felt that I would assimilate easily into the program. However, despite having previous experience doing community service, I find that this organization goes beyond anything I had ever done before. It is led by Neal Lester of Ahwatukee, ASU Foundation Professor of English.

The mission of the award-winning Project Humanities initiative is to bring people together to “talk, listen, and connect” across disciplines, communities, generations, and professions.

Outreach to diverse communities – both inside and beyond ASU – is central to the project’s goals and accomplishments. Especially as a high school student, I see many opportunities for service, and all serve a benevolent purpose. However, what makes Project Humanities different is the dedication of the people and the extent to which the organization goes to accomplish their mission.

My beginning experience with this initiative  is new and far from complete, but I can already sense the reason that Project Humanities has been able to reach out and support so many people.

I discovered the program when searching for summer internships toward the end of the school year. Co-founded by Professor Lester, Project Humanities has for the past couple of years spawned a social movement called Humanity 101.

This involves intentional programming and activities at ASU and across the Valley that promote these seven values: kindness, empathy, compassion, respect, forgiveness, integrity, and self-reflection. This focus responds to the question many ask when hearing and reading the local, national and global headlines that make us wonder: “Are we losing our humanity?”

Through the project’s bimonthly Service Saturdays, I have already seen these principles being enacted by anywhere from 20 to 50 volunteers from ASU and across the Valley – many from Desert Vista High School and Ahwatukee generally.

Volunteers of all ages come together from 6:30 to 8:15 a.m. in downtown Phoenix to distribute clothing, shoes, water and toiletries to 150-200 adults experiencing various stages of homelessness. From my first volunteer Saturday, it was immediately clear that the volunteers engage in the principles and are committed to experiencing our shared humanity.

Participating in this “Humanity 101 in Action” activity is quite moving, and I realized that I had more freedom to make an impact than I originally had thought.

As a high school intern, I am involved in several different tasks that either directly or indirectly support our homeless outreach project. Among these tasks, I find ways to let others know that everyone has the ability to contribute, and those contributions can take several different forms from simply donating and collecting items to distribute, sorting items donated and then volunteering on Saturday mornings to distribute.

Project Humanities has given me the opportunity to make a true difference in my community, and I know that the education I receive by participating in this internship has already proven invaluable to me personally by further widening my perspective on the world we live in.

I realize that it is important to recognize the wide spectrum of circumstances any person can be facing at a given time and to be mindful of that fact. No one lives the same way, but we certainly all have the ability to support each other through mutual guidance and compassion.

This initiative matters to me, and it matters to the hundreds of people who benefit from our services. By utilizing its resources to the greatest extent possible, ASU Project Humanities serves as a symbol for what people should strive for in life – understanding through connecting with one another.

Details about this bimonthly outreach – the next is this Saturday, June 17 – and the project are at projecthumanities.asu.edu, projecthumanities@asu.edu, or 480-727-7030. 

-Ariz Chang is a junior at Corona Del Sol High School in Tempe.

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