Serving homeless in Hawaii
The mention of Hawaii usually conjures up images of beautiful beaches, lush greenery and hula dancing. But for junior Leslie Rhoades, Hawaii is a reminder that homelessness is an issue that lives in even the most exotic places.
“People visit Hawaii wanting to relax and have leisure time,” says the junior Spanish and accounting major from Augusta. “They don’t want reality shoved at them whenever they go on vacation. But homelessness is a very real problem in Hawaii.”
More than 14,000 homeless people live in Hawaii, Leslie learned on a recent study-away experience with LaGrange College students and professors during January Term, the time between fall and spring semesters when many LaGrange College students travel domestically or internationally. The college provides a $2,500 travel voucher to all entering freshmen to use during their junior or senior years.
“Tourists and those who live at very high comfort levels in Hawaii tend to complain about the homeless population and want them to move their tents away from their property,” Leslie says. “They don’t want to see it; they don’t want to be made uncomfortable.”
Homeless is prevalent on the Hawaiian Islands in large part because many Americans from the mainland relocate there for jobs. Both parents work in many of the homeless situations, but their two incomes still aren’t enough for them to afford the high cost of housing. In most cases, it is too expensive for them to fly back to the mainland.
Leslie’s Jan Term class was called “Ecology and Culture of Hawaii.” The geographic location of the Hawaiian Islands contributes to its unique ecology, culture and social issues, and the course examined the diverse habitats and unique geologic features found on Oahu and the Big Island as well as the social and economic factors affecting native Hawaiians.
The students snorkeled, hiked, and explored current and ancient volcanoes, rain and cloud forests and marine ecosystems. They also participated in two service projects, including a rainforest restoration and a project that involved painting decommissioned buses that were being converted to housing for the homeless.
“It rained a lot so we didn’t get to do exactly what we had planned,” Leslie says of the rainforest project. “But we were able to take out some of the foreign plants so we could give endemic plants the chance to survive.”
As one of 12 Servant Scholars at LaGrange College, it resonated with Leslie to help convert the buses into livable housing space. Volunteers took out the seats and replaced them with single mattresses divided by wooden partitions. The students also painted the buses’ exteriors.
Leslie, one of LaGrange College’s 12 Servant Scholars, said she wants to be intentional about serving others, both through specific projects and relationship-building with the underserved.
“The tourists and others in Hawaii don’t want to see the homeless because they want to be comfortable,” she says.
“LaGrange College and the Servant Scholars program has taught me that I want to be uncomfortable. I want to be faced with issues like that so that I don’t forget that I am here to help others in whatever way I can.”
The Servant Scholars are chosen through an application and interview process, and it is their charge to connect LaGrange College and the larger community through service. They live in the newly renovated Broad Street Apartments, located halfway between the college and the downtown area. Each one is an intern at a local non-profit agency. Leslie has been serving the Habitat for Humanity ReStore.
She hopes to one day become an accountant who serves the Latino community or serve as an accountant in a Latin American country. Wherever she lands, she wants to be intentional about her service to others.
“God has been working in my life since I was very little,” Leslie says. “My parents raised me to serve others, and I had been on several mission trips before I came here. But I wasn’t aware that God was slowly knitting everything together for me to come to LaGrange College until I got here. Coming here is a strand in a big tapestry.
“I love that LaGrange College encourages service and that it has allowed me to grow in my faith. The Servant Scholars has made me realize the direction in which my life should be going.”