Belmont’s Sports Science Center is usually a place where classes are held.
But two nights a week, it’s a place where the city’s homeless can go for food and shelter.
Every Wednesday and Friday night, students volunteer at Belmont’s Room in the Inn, providing six homeless men with warm meals and comfortable bedding.
Room in the Inn is a nonprofit organization created to lend a helping hand to the community’s less fortunate on a smaller, more personal level than soup kitchens and homeless shelters.
“The idea is that it’s not just like a soup kitchen where you walk behind a counter and slop something on a plate,” said senior Torren Nanz, head of Belmont’s Room in the Inn campus community outreach.
From Nov. 1 until March 30, homeless men and women are picked up on Wednesdays and Fridays at 6 p.m. at Room in the Inn’s offices at 8th Avenue and Drexel Street. From there they are taken to Belmont’s Sports Science Center or one of almost 200 churches involved with the program.
While two male volunteers drive six men to Belmont, four other students are busy preparing food, doing laundry and setting up the TV room, the showers and a small dining area.
“One of the things we emphasize is communion meal, so the volunteers will eat with the guests and talk and hear their story,” said Nanz.
“I love getting to know the guests,” said Robert O’Brien, Belmont Room in the Inn’s director of volunteer training. “They all have really great and interesting stories to tell and I don’t think they get to tell them enough, or at least have people listen to them.”
After eating dinner and socializing with the volunteers, the men go to sleep or spend time awake watching movies, playing cards or socializing.
“We want to make sure not to impose on them,” said freshman volunteer Rebecca Sanders. “So, if they want to go to bed, they’re welcome to go to bed. If they want to watch a movie, they can watch a movie.”
The volunteering doesn’t end at bedtime, however. The two volunteers responsible for driving, otherwise known as the innkeepers, are also in charge of staying the night with the men and fixing breakfast and a sack lunch for them the next morning.
“The guests are great,” said O’Brien. “They’re always really nice and really thankful.”
The program is completely student-run and led by five senior honors students.
“It is my honors team’s senior project,” said Nanz. “In the honors program, there’s a thesis track and a leadership track. I’m in the leadership track, and there are five people on my team. This is the equivalent of our thesis — running this and organizing it.”
Because the team will be graduating next year, they’re “pretty much done with the recruiting and planning for this year and looking forward to next year.” They’ve sent out applications via email and are looking for four Belmont students to volunteer and take over the program next year.
“We’re looking for people from all different fields,” said Nanz. “You don’t have to be a social work major.”
The four positions needed for next year are volunteer coordinator, a budget and meal planner, volunteer trainer and a head of campus community outreach.
“We’re really hoping that this lasts and grows and that people get involved with it,” said O’Brien.
– Lauren Craddock