|Youth build box city to learn about homelessness|
More than 70 teenagers from area churches built shelters from cardboard
boxes on the grounds of First United Methodist Church in Omaha, Neb.
UMNS photos by John Gordon.
By John Gordon*
June 3, 2009 | OMAHA, Neb. (UMNS)
More than 70 teenagers had some soup before going to bed in cardboard boxes on the front lawn of First United Methodist Church.
Ashley Parks, 13, of Olive Crest United Methodist, unrolls her sleeping
bag to keep warm on the 40-degree spring night.
The teens gave up their comfortable bedrooms for one night to
experience the hardships faced by those who live on the streets. Youth
from several United Methodist churches and high schools built the
“You got a perspective of what people go through every night. It would definitely be very difficult,” said Andy Anderson, 17.
Organizers thought the spring weather would be warm for the event.
However, temperatures dropped into the 40s and a brisk wind made it
feel even chillier—adding a dose of realism to Box City.
“Really cold. Like, right now my feet are like, numb,” said
Elizabeth Lam, 14, a member of the youth group at First United
“It is not even that cold out and I’m in a winter coat, freezing,”
said Kailey Hansen, 16. “So I can only imagine what they go through in
the winter. It has to be terrible -- I don’t know how they do it.”
The youth also heard from speakers involved in agencies that assist
the homeless in the Omaha area. Teresa Swett, who said she was homeless
three times, encouraged the youth to explore ways they could make a
“You’re our next generation. You are going to help end homelessness,” said Swett.
Becky Jones, youth coordinator at First United Methodist Church, hopes
the experience will encourage the teens to take a bigger role in
addressing homelessness and other social issues.
Swett’s experiences helped dispel some of the stereotypes about the homeless.
“I learned that it’s not just people that have lost their jobs,”
said Andrea Norton, 14. “I honestly didn’t know that so many people
with disabilities are homeless. Some people have gone through abuse and
The youth paid $5 each as “rent” for their boxes and brought more
than 300 cans of food. The cash donations and food went to area
agencies that help the homeless.
“It’s one thing to say something and another thing completely to do
it, to experience something,” said Kealani Kee, 15, who helped organize
the Box City event.
“People my age, we have a lot of luxuries that the people of older
generations didn’t have and a lot of the times it makes us spoiled,”
Becky Jones, First United Methodist’s youth coordinator, hopes the
experience will encourage the teens to take a bigger role in addressing
homelessness and other social issues.
“To me, that is the way you get your people involved in government,
in your churches, in your community,” Jones said. “Just one night at
Box City, maybe that’s a start.”
The Rev. Jane Florence, senior pastor of the 650-member
congregation, believes the church can play a leading role in bringing
Maddy Malone, 14, of St. Paul United Methodist Church, decorates the
carton she will sleep in for the Box City event.
“The church is the energy, the viable force that’s in the community,
that’s drawing people together to help us serve one another,” she said.
After the chilly night, Norton and Cooper Flanagan, 13, were thinking about ways to get more youth involved.
“I’m in a few service clubs at my school,” Norton said. “I can get
stuff going at my school that will help promote awareness, also.”
Flanagan said the experience also helped him rethink the role of churches.
“I think it might open people’s eyes more, so that they know that
churches do more than just teach religion,” he said. “They also help
*Gordon is a freelance producer and writer based in Marshall, Texas.
News media contact: Fran Coode Walsh, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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