DECATUR — About a dozen Millikin University students are spending their spring break doing a different kind of “home tour.”
Instead of visiting architecturally unusual houses dressed up for show, they’re going to many of Decatur’s shelters for homeless people and, if needed, helping them out with much-needed projects. On Wednesday, they were at Decatur Family Refuge rearranging food and other donations into two separate rooms in the basement.
The basement rearrangement project is the result of an impending move by Decatur Is Growing Gardeners, which has rented space from Decatur Family Sanctuary, to a different location.
Their reasons included from having nothing better to do to having a history of community service.
“If my mom sees people who need our help and she knows their situation, she will open our house to them,” said Erica Nwachukwu, a junior from Chicago majoring in vocal performance and communication. “It’s become a part of me and something I feel I have to do.”
Their tour guide is Cassie Monfiston, service and civic engagement coordinator at Millikin through AmeriCorps VISTA, who said she, too, is learning a lot.
The group spent a half-day Monday at the Salvation Army’s men’s shelter and Tuesday at the Grace House shelter for women and children and plan to visit the food pantry at Decatur Catholic Charities today.
Kathleen Taylor, director of Decatur Family Sanctuary, greeted the students with a stern question: “Do you guys know what coats are? I’m glad my guys aren’t here to see the bad example you’re setting.”
Her tone softened, however, as she told the students how no other homeless shelter in Decatur will accept a male custodial adult with children, nor will they accept boys once they reach puberty.
“We have had single dads, single moms, couples, and a grandmother, a sister and a brother who’ve had custody,” Taylor said. “We house five families at a time and work on a plan with them so that when they leave they are productive members of society.”
Ironically, it tends to be the children who get that things could be different for their family and push their parents to make the choices needed to break the cycle, Taylor said.