Leaving the comfort of their dorm rooms at Notre Dame of Maryland University, students will travel downtown to Our Daily Bread Employment Center, on Friday, Oct. 12 for an overnight stay at the Center, which serves Baltimore’s homeless and impoverished population. Even more effectual, the students will sleep outside in cardboard boxes on the Center’s basketball court in an effort to better understand the challenges that face those in need.

The Sleep Out is organized by Catholic Charities’ Project Serve“Last year’s event was very impactful for both students and staff, and I know we all left with an altered perspective on homelessness and those who experience it,” said Sarah McIlvried, coordinator of Project SERVE.

Throughout the night, students will have the opportunity to meet individuals who were formerly homeless and are now reclaiming their lives through the Center’s Christopher Place Employment Academy. Students will also engage in break out sessions and help prepare food for ODBEC’s breakfast and lunch service which feeds nearly 1,200 a day.

Last year all of the students slept on the basketball court, which is nestled between the Jones Falls Expressway and the Baltimore City Jail. “Sleeping outside gave the students this intense, eye-opening experience of understanding how difficult it is for our clients to spend their nights out-of-doors,” McIlvried said.

To support the Sleep Out, McIlvried welcomes the support of volunteer and breakfast food donations. Contact McIlvried at smcilvried@cc-md.org. Students will arrive at 6:45 p.m. on Friday and depart at 7:30 a.m. on Saturday.

Project SERVE (Service and Education through Residential Volunteer Experience) is a unique, year-long opportunity for recent college graduates to dedicate a year to full-time service in Baltimore. Volunteers live in intentional community and explore a shared commitment to social justice and a simple and sustainable lifestyle

Reflections of NDMU sleep out at Our Daily Bread

This past Friday (October 20, 2017), members of the first-year class at Notre Dame of Maryland University took part in an all-night Sleep Out event at Our Daily Bread Employment Center. Planned in partnership with Notre Dame’s Campus Ministry, the evening aimed to create an experience of education, empathy-building, and personal encounter that would prompt students to look through the eyes of individuals living through homelessness and poverty.

After a welcome and introduction to Catholic Charities by Executive Director Bill McCarthy, students began the evening by gathering in small groups with some of the men from Christopher Place Employment Academy who graciously shared their own stories. This opportunity for listening and sharing set the rest of the evening the context of the relationship, for understanding homelessness and poverty, not as abstract issues, but as realities that affect people we can know and care about. In the sessions that followed, students were led through a budget simulation exercise, conversation about the myths surrounding poverty and homelessness, and a viewing a Pope Francis’s Ted Talk about our common call to compassion and solidarity. Though the night grew long, the women continued to ask insightful questions, offer passionate insight, and engage deeply with what they were learning.

At midnight, we paused for a candlelight prayer service, meditating on what it means to offer oneself as a light to our neighbors and to find strength in the light of those around us. This can be done even through small acts of behind-the-scenes love – for example, staying up until 3 a.m. to peel pounds of potatoes for free meals or working on Christmas crafts that will be given to guests at Weinberg Housing and Resource Center when December rolls around. As the night wore on and students drifted off to sleep, some even chose to spend the night outside in shelters they had constructed earlier in the evening, knowing that while this by no means captures the true risk and discomfort for those who spend their nights without shelter, it can open a doorway for greater empathy and compassion.

As students departed on Saturday morning, I heard snippets of conversation here and there, individuals expressing their eagerness to share the experience back on campus with those who had not taken part and their desire to begin finding ways to serve on a regular basis. I think this captures the true intention of the evening: that personal encounter touches us, expands our understanding, and moves us to take action, to teach others, and to continue educating ourselves. Many thanks to all who were involved in planning, facilitating, and making this night possible, to the men who were willing to share their personal stories, to the women who participated, and to Notre Dame for their mission to instill a heart for service in each student as they move through their education and beyond.