MARQUETTE - When you think of spring break, beaches, flip flops, and warm weather come to mind.
But our group from Lutheran Campus Ministry at Northern Michigan University decided to spend four days in the 14th Street corridor and the N Street Village in Washington, D.C., helping others instead of pampering ourselves.
Adele Herman, Heather Mokszycke, Ministry Associate Marcia Parkkonen and I joined with Luther Place and the Steinbruck Center for Urban Studies to learn about the homeless in D.C., the history of Luther Place, and to experience a small taste of homelessness in our nation's capital.
Above, While in Washington, D.C., the group from Northern Michigan University stayed at Luther Place Memorial Church, shown here. At right, two D.C. Central Kitchen workers pose with some of the crew from NMU. NMU people are, from the left: Adele Herman, Ellen Lindblom, Heather Mokszycke and Marcia Parkkonen. (Photos courtesy of Ellen Lindblom)
Adele Herman reviews some information, right, while a participant from another youth group looks on. Students from Northern Michigan University spent part of their spring break learning about the efforts to help the homeless in the nation’s capital. (Photo courtesy of Ellen Lindblom)
Heather Mokszycke works helping to serve meals for homeless Washington, D.C., residents at D.C. Central Kitchen. (Photo courtesy of Ellen Lindblom)
The area around Luther Place is notorious for the 14th Street riots after Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination in 1968. It is one of the first places in the city to start advocacy for the homeless after the devastation of the riots left many homeless.
The closing the local hospital for the mentally ill also left a large number of patients on the street.
Luther Place began the process of building the N Street Village in the late 1980s and finished production in 1996. The N Street Village now has a night shelter, a day center, on-site medical and dental care, affordable housing, and employment opportunities for homeless women all over D.C.
During our trip, we had the opportunity to bring food to low-income seniors, spend time volunteering in the women's shelter, play bingo with the residents, hand out necessities to homeless people on the streets and help prep food at the D.C. Central Kitchen.
Many special opportunities were there, each with their own special "God is with us" moments.
Whether it was how excited the women were to play bingo and win a little bit of indulgence or a homeless man on the street giving us an offering to help our church, there were many things that touched our hearts.
The beautiful thing about people who don't have much is their willingness to share. They help each other get by. They help each other make it day by day and depend on each other.
Every person in the world could learn something from some of the people we met while in Washington D.C. They are inspirational, special, and kind. It was truly a gift to spend some time with them.
While some of my college friends are spending the spring break week in Mexico, Florida, Belize - or just at their homes this year - I challenge them to try something different next year.
I challenge all of you spend a week out of your comfort zone. Whether you spend time with the homeless in D.C. like we did, or you spend it in another part of America or the world helping others, I guarantee that you will never regret it.
Take the time to make a difference.
Negaunee resident Ellen Lindblom is a student at Northern Michigan University.