Trinity Church in Swarthmore, where Joyce Tompkins assists on Sundays, was set to host a dinner for persons experiencing homelessness. But it was short on volunteers. So Tompkins reached out to a few first-year students, and within an hour she had eight commitments.
“The students stayed for three hours, sharing the meal with the families, talking with them, and playing with their children,” says Tompkins, director of religious and spiritual life at Swarthmore, of the February gathering. “Everyone jumped right in, just excited to engage.”
And several students followed up with the families as they traveled to other congregations, with Keyanna Ortiz-Cedeno ’19, of Portland, Texas, staying in touch with one when it left the program and found permanent housing.
“It was such a successful fellowship that I invited the students to start a group,” says Tompkins.
Enter Swatties in Service, a student group eager to serve the community through a lens of faith. The group aims to build upon the relationships it has formed with local families while addressing the systemic policy issues related to homelessness.
The group quickly rose to 68 members, some of whom have experienced homelessness in their own lives. The popularity of the group didn’t surprise Tompkins, who cites the passion for social justice throughout campus and a student desire to give back to the community.
“Of course, being Swatties, they began bringing their friends, from other faith traditions, or from no faith tradition,” she adds. “So it became a truly interfaith experience.”
Each student committed to helping whenever an Interfaith Hospitality Network meal is hosted at a congregation in Swarthmore, and to be hands-on, soup to nuts — from buying the groceries to cleaning up.
“It was just a great stress relief, being able to cook food and then getting to watch the little kids play around and enjoying that company put a smile on my face,” Leah Brumgard ’19 of Hanover, Pa., says of her first few experiences with the program.
“One of the things that really stuck with me was that these kids, particularly the younger ones, don’t see themselves as poor or underprivileged,” adds Sebastian Mintah ’19, of Johannesburg, South Africa. “They are filled with energy and joy and just want to have fun and learn.”
Swatties in Service also brought guest speakers to campus to engage the community on topics of homelessness. In April, Ortiz-Cedeño introduced Lorie Ackerman, director of Family Promise of Delaware County, which provides shelter to families that are temporarily homeless because of a job loss or shortage or unavailability of affordable housing.
“It’s lifting up the issue for the larger campus community,” says Tompkins, “and giving it a human face.”
Swatties in Service will expand upon those efforts when students return to campus in the fall, strengthening the connections they have created between campus, local congregations, and the larger community.
“I want to see Swatties in Service grow in number but also in reach,” says Mintah. “I can’t wait to see how much positive change we can bring about to the Swarthmore community and beyond!”