“They would walk by and hammer on the boxes with their hands or kick them with their feet and scream ‘wake up,’” says Rebecca Vanderkemp, who, along with Professor Robert Feagan and a handful of others, slept outside the William’s Coffee Pub on Market Street on February 3 to raise money and awareness for homelessness in Brantford.
Vanderkemp is a fourth year concurrent education student and a volunteer at Why Not City Mission, a local not-for-profit that joined with Feagan in the event. Beyond the subzero temperatures and uncomfortable cardboard beds, the real shock for those involved was the vitriol and disrespect directed at them from some Laurier students. The supervisor of Why Not City Missions wound up being kicked through the box in ribs he had just broken, “which was really crappy,” says Vanderkemp.
“Male students were kicking the boxes because they’re young and not thinking about what’s actually happening here,” says Feagan, explaining his personal experience.
Both talk about the booming loud music and constant disruptions which carried on until approximately 3 a.m. For Vanderkemp the experience was disarming, as she describes students from her classes walking by without so much as saying hello or making eye contact. She equates this experience with ones that many young Brantford natives have confided in her through her work with the Why Not program.
“I hear [Laurier students] say, they don’t want to talk to us,” says Feagan.
Feagan is hopeful for the future though. He believes that as Laurier Brantford students and faculty learn more about community issues, the greater their involvement will be. He stresses the need for a sense of responsibility, connection and partnership when it comes to Brantford.
“Our connection to the community through community service learning is helping to make good partnerships,” says Feagan, who after sending a last minute email, received $700 in sponsorship from fellow professors.
He is also optimistic about the splash they made as he reports hearing very vocal conversations of students wondering what is happening. There are many opportunities for students to get involved in the community. This particular event was hosted by the St. Leonard Society, which is an active component in Brantford.
Other important groups in the downtown include the Why Not program, which is constantly taking clothing and food donations, and welcomes reliable and consistent mentors. Vanderkemp stresses the importance of making connections and recognizing everyone as human beings.
“No one is actually strangers, we’ve all gone through trouble and we can learn so much from each other so I would definitely encourage others to talk with everyone.”