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Virginia college students travel to Kansas City during spring break to volunteer at homeless shelter

JMU Students with soil.jpg
Posted at 6:04 PM, Mar 16, 2023
and last updated 2023-03-16 19:28:53-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo — A group of college students from Virginia are in Kansas City this week, volunteering their time at a local homeless shelter for mothers and children.

Sheffield Place has maintained its partnership with James Madison University for over 20 years. A group of students comes to the shelter every spring break for experiential learning to supplement their degrees.

Many of the students in this year’s group are studying clinical psychology.

“We live in a pretty rural part of Virginia, so the needs, even though there are similar issues, the needs are different and the root causes are a little different. So it’s definitely been worth it,” said first-year graduate student Tara Pollnitz.

This year, six students have traveled hundreds of miles from home to learn from industry experts, work with clients and roll up their sleeves around the shelter. They have opted-in on an alternative spring break where students travel worldwide and immerse themselves in helping community-identified needs.

“We feel being able to engage in service allows us to truly see what social issues look like on the ground, at the ground level,” said student Christopher Johnson.

Reports from 2022 show 97% of mothers had addiction issues, a third of them had felonies and 84% of families came from domestic violence situations.

“So last year, all of our moms had mental health diagnosis, they all lived below the poverty line and in fact, 94% of our moms, the income they reported was between 0 and 10 grand annually,” said CEO and President of Sheffield Place, Kelly Welch.

Working with the clients has changed how Pollnitz wants to approach solutions in her field. Both Pollnitz and Johnson have been impressed by the shelter’s holistic approach to healing and self-sufficiency.

They hope their takeaways here can help reshape how people think about and approach systemic issues.

“It is important to just get people off the streets, but I think the void Sheffield Place is doing its part in filling is bridging the gap between being in that immediate situation and reaching self-sufficiency,” said Pollnitz. “Everyone is an individual, even people who have faced similar things in their lives, there’s no one size fits all recipe that gonna do it for everyone.”