Creating compassionate society boosts everyone


A young student in class raised his hand and with permission started telling me about a video he had watched online about two people who were homeless; one was a man middle-aged and the other a young boy.

The student described the reaction of other people yelling from a distance at the man, “Get a job!” or “Move along!”

The student described how no one was willing to help this white man, who was dirty, with worn clothes and shoes. The way the student described the interactions were one with unspoken questions behind them; however, he quickly moved along sharing the interactions with the young Latino boy. The boy also homeless, dirty with worn clothes and shoes. But people were compassionate, bending down close to the boy and talking calmly to him, they offered help — food, clothing, money and how to help him find his parents.

The student looked at me with big eyes and said “Why didn’t they help both people? I was nearly drawn to tears.”

Homelessness is a challenging issue, and one that can’t come with one solution for all. There are homeless individuals that do have jobs, so just getting a job may not be enough. There are homeless individuals that are children and may have trouble getting homework completed, staying awake in class or paying attention because of their rumbling tummies.

A couple of weeks ago, I had the privilege to go into Mrs. (Jennifer) Regruth’s fourth grade classroom at Margaret R. Brown Elementary School to talk about community, and I brought along a service learning project. Thanks to 20 personal friends, I gathered the supplies needed, including personal hygiene items and convenient snacks.

When I learned after the lesson what student, Eloiza Baltazar, did by making more blessing bags to distribute to those in need, my aspiration for this project was confirmed.

Students learned not only an important lesson about the compassion they could bestow on others, but that they are a part of the community now and have a vital role to play in our community being a place where all work together to take care of neighbors and generations.

Connecting students to service learning is a passion of mine that stems from my own experience. When a student learns from an activity that is followed with service, it connects both the head and the heart. These opportunities inspire students (and people of all ages) to think critically through the social issue and then with their heart to show compassion. The most important piece is the reflection after the service happens to think through how to address the root cause of the condition.

Big issues, like homelessness, aren’t just in big cities. Jackson County residents daily are affected by this issue. We collaborate with partners like Anchor House and Human Services Inc. to address the challenges and barriers in the way of residents having a safe, stable place to live.

At Jackson County United Way, we live against homelessness and fight for the health, education, and financial stability of every person in our county.

County residents want to see a community that works together to take care of neighbors and generations. Starting with the aspiration allows all individuals to consider what they can do to create change.

Each individual can attribute to our goal as a county. Educators have been excited about the opportunity to open their door to service learning and we have invitations into seven more classrooms to continue this experience.

What will you do to help the community work together to take care of neighbors and generations? Contact me to talk about what you would like to do: 812-522-5450.

Tonja Couch is executive director of Jackson County United Way.

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