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Brandon youth learn lesson about homeless
By By Alica P. Thiele
Challenger reporter

July 19. 2013 10:21AM
Over lunch at a place called Reggie’s Cafe, eighth-grader Ellie Holmes got to know a man named Jimmy Joe. “He seemed like a happy guy,” she said. “He smiled a lot, talked a lot. Which just about shattered my view about homeless people.”

Holmes was part of a group from Faith United Presbyterian Church that went to Des Moines, Iowa, in June through Urban Plunge, a program of Christ for the City International. While there, the Brandon group met homeless people and those who serve them.

“When they say Urban Plunge, they mean it,” said John Blok, Faith United’s youth pastor. He said the group, mostly eighth- and ninth-graders, visited up to nine ministries during their two-day stay in Des Moines. “It was a huge eye opener for the kids,” he said.

Reggie’s Café is a feeding ministry for people who might otherwise not have food. It’s just a hole in the wall, according to Holmes. Ally Boerhave, 13, said it was set up like a cafeteria. Servers would put a peanut butter sandwich, fresh fruit and vegetables and a krispie treat into a brown bag for guests. The Brandon visitors mingled with the guests.

Holmes said if someone saw Jimmy Joe on the street, “you would have thought he was a creepy guy.” But once she started chatting with him, she learned different. He asked about the youths’ sports, for example. “He was just a nice guy,” she said.

Derek Hubers said that before the trip, he thought of a homeless person as someone with old clothes, smelly and begging for food and money. But in Des Moines, he learned that “actually, they are real people like you and I.”

Blok said the trip “just opened (the kids’) eyes that there is no standard for homeless people.”

One person the group met was a former homeless woman who now is a student. Until she qualified for senior citizens benefits, she said she had a hard time finding assistance geared toward women. Her goal now is to start women’s programs.

“You don’t have to go very far out of your element to find hardships,” Blok said.

Julie Boerhave, a parent chaperone, said the trip was a “great opportunity” for the kids. “It makes them grateful for what they have … to see the world in a different view,” she said.

Her daughter, Ally, 13, said her particular memory was of a homeless man who lived in an abandoned shelter, called a “hooch,” in a wooded area. “The whole thing was about the size of a very small bedroom,” she said. His furniture was made of found objects that he’d rigged together. He had a generator for some power, but no running water.
Holmes said they saw hooches that were nothing more than a tarp tied to a tree. She said seeing people living under those conditions in a Midwestern city like Des Moines was a “powerful experience.”

“Every kid takes something different away from a trip like that,” Blok said.

Holmes and Ally Boerhave each said that they have become more aware that homeless people could be in their own community.

“Now, when you’re passing over a bridge, you think there might be someone living there,” Boerhave said. Holmes said that when she is out and about, she’ll spend more time thinking about the people she sees, “instead of just passing them by.”

A homeless man named Don tells a group from Faith United Presbyterian Church about his "hooch," a makeshift shelter he calls home in a wooded area in Des Moines. Group members pictured are (front, from left), Derek Hubers, (back), Dylan Blom, Julie Boerhave, (behind the pole), John Blok, Jonathan Smithback, Kiara Valentien, Morgan TeKrony (hidden), Kailee Duncanson, Samantha Beckman, Ellie Holmes (partially hidden), Caitlynn Runia, McKenzie Decker, Ally Boerhave and Lindsay Schobert (back). Submitted photo

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