I really didn’t know what I was getting into when I signed up through UGA to go on a week long service trip devoted to shelter and resource access. In fact, I didn’t even really know what shelter and resources access was except that it seemed like something important. I felt nervous as I met up with my service group from UGA in Savannah, Georgia. I’d picked Savannah as one of my top places because I wanted to serve a community I was familiar with and that I loved, so on the first day I found myself with fifteen strangers painting a house thirteen miles away from my own home.

That first day wasn’t weird like I’d expected it to be. Everyone on my trip was incredibly welcoming and kind. By the end of the week, I felt like I really knew them. This was for many reasons. First, we had no choice but to get to know each other. We were the only people we consistently saw for a whole week. Second, every night we had reflections where we talked about our day and what we’d learned. In many ways, those reflections built a sense of trust and understanding among us even when we disagreed on difficult topics.

There were plenty of difficult topics. Shelter and resource access, as you probably can imagine, is several difficult topics rolled into one title. Throughout the week, I learned about many of them. We worked a lot with homeless shelters. We painted rooms, organized their thrift stores, and went to a fellowship night. We went to a youth shelter and painted the bedrooms for the girls who stay there. We worked with Georgia Regional Hospital, which is a mental health facility. We went to a food bank and worked with Habitat for Humanity. These are some but not all of the places we went.

Sound like a lot? It was, but that’s my point. Shelter and resource access is complicated. I learned throughout the week that at its most basic level it means providing food and shelter for people without those necessities. However, every single homeless shelter we worked with also had programs set up to help those at their facilities live independently. That included career counseling and incentivizing job searches. The youth shelter focused on returning children to their parents and making sure they complete high school. I learned that resource access does not always mean physical resources, but that it can also mean resources like access to mental health facilities and education.  

This trip reminded me that I don’t, nor should anyone, get to complain about the state of the world without actually putting in the work to make the change I want to see. It is easy to be overwhelmed and angry with all of the injustices in the world. I often feel this way and am moved to inaction because I’m discouraged. This trip reminded me that it is about small actions in my daily life. Small progress in the right direction is still progress. It in no way has to be a big week long trip like I did.

I am grateful for Savannah, a beautiful and stubborn city, for all that it taught me that week, and I’m so happy I was able to learn about shelter and resource access in the context of a community I care about deeply. We were able to stay at the UGA Marine Extension on Skidaway Island, which was especially lucky because most trips have to sleep on the floors of churches and shower at gyms. We had private bathrooms and our own beds. Many of our meals were provided for by the Marine Extension workers and the organizations we worked with throughout the week. We also enjoyed a lovely dinner at a UGA alumni house. There were so many things to be grateful for that week, and this is just the beginning of the list.

I turned twenty a week or so after I got back from my trip, and I decided to do a birthday fundraiser on Facebook for one of the non-profits I worked with that week. I chose Union Mission. Union Mission is a homeless shelter in Savannah that provides emergency shelter, career counseling, and HIV/AIDS supportive services, among other things. I set my goal at $100 because that seemed achievable. Guess what? Y’all totally surpassed my goal by raising $150. I am so happy about this and am so thankful to everyone who donated.

So thank you to anyone who donated, who shared the post, who volunteers, who hosted us that week. Thank you to my new friends. Thank you to my school and Athens-Clarke county.  

This is just my experience, and I am in no way an expert of the topic of shelter and resource access. In fact, I left my trip only really knowing one thing, which is that I still have so much to learn.