Penn State Lehigh Valley (PSU-LV) student, Reema Kaskas, was motivated after volunteering for the campus's Adopt-an-Apartment project last year with fellow students at the Sixth Street Shelter in Allentown.
“After seeing firsthand how our project positively impacted the community last fall, I was inspired to apply for a TeenWorks grant with Dr. Parker to support this year’s Adopt-an-Apartment project in order to make the biggest difference we could,” said Kaskas, a junior rehabilitation and human services (RHS) major.
The Sixth Street Shelter’s Adopt-an-Apartment program allows families experiencing the crisis of homelessness to have a comfortable, safe home for up to 90 days as they work with shelter staff to resolve issues that led to their homelessness. Jennifer Parker, associate professor of sociology at Penn State Lehigh Valley, has served as an adviser for the campus’s Adopt-an-Apartment project for four years alongside Leigh Cundari, assistant teaching professor and program coordinator for the RHS program.
Kaskas secured a $2,447.85 grant from TeenWorks, an affinity council of United Way of the Greater Lehigh Valley. The grant money was used to install a new floor in the Adopt-an-Apartment shelter apartment that the team of about 50 Lehigh Valley students and high school students from the Indian American Association of the Lehigh Valley’s youth group recently completed fixing up. Most of the university students were from the RHS club and Parker’s sociology courses.
“I am impressed that Reema Kaskas took it upon herself to apply and secure a grant from TeenWorks to further enhance the shelter apartment her team adopted,” said Kristine Blasco, director of the Sixth Street Shelter and Penn State alumna who attended the Lehigh Valley campus. “We need more young people recognizing the devastating effects of homelessness on their community and their ability to help. I applaud these students' efforts and am proud of my alma mater for continuing to connect students to the community, instilling in them the desire to give back, and showing them how to create solutions.”
The student team spent weeks cleaning out and painting the apartment, helping to install a brand new floor and getting the space furnished. Cundari donated bedding and towels for the family; the Parkland High School Dance Team donated a basket of kitchen items, toiletries and toys; and the student volunteers collected furniture donations from the community
"It’s always a humbling experience to do selflessly unto others, and being a part of the Adopt-an-Apartment program for the second year in a row now has only fueled my passion. Just knowing that we were able to help create a new beginning for a family in need is fulfilling. The RHS Club strives to serve the community, so it was encouraging to see a lot of my peers involved in lending a helping hand as well," said Selena Nazario, president of RHS Club at Penn State Lehigh Valley.
“The apartment was much larger this year than last and it took about eight weeks to complete. It was a great experience to be a part of something bigger,” said Kaskas.
United Way’s TeenWorks presents grant to the Penn State Lehigh Valley Adopt-an-Apartment team
Representatives from TeenWorks and the United Way of the Greater Lehigh Valley presented the check for the TeenWorks grant to Kaskas and the other students involved in the project on Dec. 5 at the Lehigh Valley campus.
Check presentation attendees included: Daniella De Leon, director of labor relations, United Way of the Greater Lehigh Valley and board member, United Way of the Greater Lehigh Valley TeenWorks; David Lewis, president, United Way of the Greater Lehigh Valley; Gregg Potter, president, Lehigh Valley Labor Council and board member, United Way of the Greater Lehigh Valley TeenWorks; Tina Q. Richardson, chancellor, Penn State Lehigh Valley; Douglas Hochstetler, interim director of academic affairs, Penn State Lehigh Valley; Jennifer Parker, associate professor of sociology, Penn State Lehigh Valley and volunteer coordinator for the Adopt-an-Apartment project; Reema Kaskas, Penn State Lehigh Valley junior; and approximately 30 Penn State Lehigh Valley student volunteers who supported the project.
“Congratulations to Reema on taking the project lead and securing the grant from TeenWorks. TeenWorks is a partnership between organized labor and United Way of the Greater Lehigh Valley. The board is a diverse group of teens and adults who help to encourage and endow young, local applicants, like Reema, who hope to better their communities. Since 1999, the group has funded over 450 projects with dollars exceeding $500,000,” said De Leon.
Panel on homelessness: Is the American Dream still alive today and for whom?
The Adopt-an-Apartment project sparked conversation and discussions on campus about the causes of and solutions to homelessness.
A panel discussion, titled: “Is the American Dream still alive today and for whom?” was held on Nov. 14 at the Lehigh Valley campus. About 40 students, faculty and staff attended the event which focused on the intersections of homelessness, work, poverty and economic change.
- Kristine Blasco, director of the Sixth Street Shelter, who discussed the impact of homelessness in the region. Blasco said more than 500 households are on the waitlist for services in the Lehigh Valley, and she discussed the study from the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia which found that poverty is more damaging on a child’s development than exposure to cocaine.
- Bob Wolfe, instructor in economics at Penn State Lehigh Valley, who discussed his opinions on how to help people who have the will to work, but who are facing factors outside of their control which impact their situation.
- Gregg Potter, president of the Lehigh Valley Labor Council and board member of the United Way of the Greater Lehigh Valley TeenWorks™, spoke about the importance of and function of the Labor Council in putting people to work.
- Rob Beslanovits, a retired cement work and past United Steelworkers representative, spoke about his experiences in the cement industry for the past 40 years.
- Angela Phillips, Penn State Lehigh Valley student and former McDonald’s employee, and Darius Wilkins, Penn State Lehigh Valley student and current McDonald’s employee, shared their experiences working at McDonald’s and how they saw other people trying to provide for a family on a fast-food chain restaurant employee salary.
“The goal of the panel was to discuss concerns of today related to housing and homelessness, jobs, wages and labor markets, as well as broad economic trends,” said Parker.
The panel discussion was sponsored by the RHS Club, the RHS program, the Soc001 course and Academic Affairs at Penn State Lehigh Valley.