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Union provides shelter for homeless in community

Union students Emily Watlington (left) and Andrew Griffith play cards with Donelle and Glenn during the
Union students Emily Watlington (left) and Andrew Griffith play cards with Donelle and Glenn during the "Room in the Inn" event Dec. 7 on Union's campus. Union hosted 17 men from Jackson's homeless community, providing them with food, showers and a place to sleep. (Photo by Stephanie Schroeder)

JACKSON, Tenn.Dec. 10, 2007 – Seventeen men from Jackson’s homeless community entered the doors of Luther Hall on Union University’s campus Dec. 7 to receive food, showers and a warm place to lay their heads.

“We talk so much about shaping a Christian worldview and engaging the culture,” said Amanda Pennington, senior social work major. “That needs to be all aspects of the culture and sometimes getting our hands dirty.”

Pennington approached the administration in the summer about an opportunity to participate in “Room in the Inn,” a program sponsored by Area Relief Ministries in which local churches host and make provisions for homeless men in the community.

“I had heard about some schools in Nashville helping with (Room in the Inn),” Pennington said. “I started talking to Dean Kimberly Thornbury this summer about whether Union could possibly host Room in the Inn like a congregation would.”

Thornbury, dean of students, was helpful in taking proper steps to make the university’s participation possible, Pennington said. A student leadership team of five students was compiled to help complete necessary tasks of carrying out the project details.

Thirteen students and three professors gathered Friday evening to assist with the project.

Two of these students, Michael Grubb, sophomore philosophy major, and Andrew Griffith, sophomore international business major, are active participants in Room in the Inn, attending every Friday night at local churches to serve as overnight chaperones.

“You see a lot of people coming back from previous nights,” Grubb said. “When you get in there, there’s nothing else to do other then eat and talk. So that’s what we do. (The men) are always open.”

Kenneth – better known to the other men as “Cadillac” – was one of the 17 men in attendance who is currently homeless. He shared his story of how he came to be in this situation.

Nearly 10 years ago, Kenneth was arrested on charges of attempted murder and aggravated assault, receiving a 10-year prison sentence. Nevertheless, he described how his life has changed since that time.

“I just got out in 2007,” Kenneth said. “I used to be a very angry man, but I gave all my problems and anger to God. I’m a much better person now.”

Other men revealed different motivations for attempts at a better life.

Fred, a native of Gary, Ind., said that he was in the military for 10 years, during which time he served in Germany. After his service, Fred and his wife divorced and he became addicted to drugs and alcohol. Although Fred is no longer a drug user, he said his current situation is one of the consequences of his earlier actions.

Fred also has four children by three different women, the youngest child being 11 years old. He said providing for his children is a key motivation for his job search.

“I’m trying to find a job so I can take care of my son,” Fred said. “I’m divorced, but I’m not divorced from my children.”

Pennington said Union’s hosting such an event provides a practical way for students to get to know different kinds of people.

“You get a chance to know people and realize their lives really aren’t different than our own,” Pennington said. “At the end of the day, we are all loved and created by God, regardless of our status in life.”

Kenneth explained that while he “detests” his current situation, he is doing what he can to make the most of it.

“I’m 46 years old now and I can’t do no more time,” Kenneth said. “I’m going to try to live out the rest of my life being an influence on others.”

Kenneth is taking every opportunity to do just that. Through tears Kenneth explained the importance of allowing God to guide decisions.

“You’re on your way out there where it’s really happening at,” Kenneth said. “Don’t let no man, no woman, influence none of your decisions–no matter what circumstances, no matter what you come to face–let it be God. I got away from that and I landed myself in prison.”

“Some people might complain (the program) is putting a Band-aid on a gun shot wound,” Pennington said. “But you have to meet people’s immediate needs and if it’s getting them out of the cold, then that’s what you need to do.”

To find out more about helping with Room in the Inn, contact Area Relief Ministries at (731) 423-9257.

By Brittany Howerton (’08)

Media contact: Tim Ellsworth, news@uu.edu, 731-661-5215

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