Creating Change in a Changing Climate

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Faces filled the two thousand six hundred and eighteen miles of highway between Tacoma, Washington, and Fairbanks, Alaska. The profiles of the mountains on the northern horizon formed lips, brows, noses and chins. I was moving back to Alaska to attend graduate school after two years in the Jesuit Volunteer Corps working at Nativity House, a drop-in day shelter for the homeless in Tacoma. The mountains were telling me stories of the hundreds of people with whom I had drunk coffee, laughed and cried, people I had clothed and fed. The community at Nativity House had become a part of me. I saw them everywhere. The faces in the mountains were of people I knew - homeless faces, and the mountains were asking me why I was leaving. My chest was tight.

During my years of service, I was immersed in Tacoma's homeless community, its deep pain and struggle, and its triumphs and joy. I stood beside homeless friends as they talked about drug and alcohol addictions. I called ambulances as guests overdosed, de-escalated fights. I helped severely mentally ill guests change out of their urine-soaked clothes and bandaged their wounds. I led church services that always ended holding hands in the Lord's Prayer, had floor mopping races with street teens, and wrote poetry and stories with guests. I laughed, cooked and ate. Everyday I could feel that I was making a direct difference in people's lives. There was a sort of instant gratification by action that was simple and immediate in its goals. People needed food, we fed them; people needed a safe dry place to be, bus tickets, clean clothing or blankets, we gave them these things; people needed dignity, we listened to their stories.

During my first few months of graduate school, I was pulled continually between the world I had just left and the new reality I had just begun. I longed for the community and direct service I had been a part of at Nativity House, yet wanted to use my skills in biology and see what opportunities it had to offer. I constantly worried, however, that I was not living out the radical call of Jesus to serve the marginalized people of the world. I was worried that I had turned my back on the fight against poverty, hunger and homelessness. More importantly, I was worried I had turned my back on my homeless friends in Tacoma.

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Katie Villano, Krista Colleague class of 2004, is a graduate student in Ecology at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. From 2003-2005, she served at a homeless shelter in Tacoma, Washington, with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps. Katie graduated from Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington. She has passion for the outdoors, social justice, education and writing.


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