Union students feed, house homeless with Room in the Inn program

By Elizabeth Oakes
Staff Writer

Men with no place to call home were offered meals and a place to sleep Nov. 7 in the Fesmire Field House through Room in the Inn, an event sponsored by Area Relief Ministries.

“I think God puts people in my life for certain amounts of time to teach me things,” James Nielson, Room in the Inn resident, said. “Even if they are only in my life for a passing moment, I take it as it comes and live each day at a time.”

Kyleigh Carter and Ali Holcomb, junior social work majors, help coordinate Room in the Inn each month under the club Social Work Reaches Out. Throughout the week, churches in Jackson alternate hosting the men for a night.

This month, Kyle Gallop and Sierra Owens-Hughes’ LifeGroup hosted the men.

Each time, a group of students serve as the hosts of the evening by preparing dinner and breakfast for the men.

At least two male Union certified drivers drive the men to the Fesmire Field House for a family-style dinner. Typically, 10 to 15 men attend.

Chili with a variety of toppings was served at the Oct. 24 Room in the Inn.

“Richard, do you like Fritos?” Carter said jokingly, glancing at the resident’s mountain of chips.

“I think maybe I do,” Richard said with a smile.

As the men and volunteers ate their dinner, the conversation went from sports to favorite foods to the “Twilight” films.

“I was terrified the first time I volunteered,” Carter said. “Once I got there, I realized our guests were not that different from me. We all come from different backgrounds and have different life stories, but at the end of the day … we are all created and treasured by God despite status in life.”

The hope behind Room in the Inn is to get the men in stable living conditions and jobs by encouraging them through the relationships that are made there. Carter said learning the men’s stories and helping to advance the Kingdom of God is the most rewarding aspect of volunteering with Room in the Inn.

One guest, James Nielson, just completed a master’s degree in Atlanta and plans to move to Dallas as soon as possible to search for a job.

“Without the people at Room in the Inn encouraging me to go back to school, I would’ve never gone,” Nielson said. “I am still thankful for them to this day.”

Nielson graduated from Lane College in 1987 and stayed in Jackson until 2007 when he went back to school.

“You can take away my dignity and you can take away my pride, but you can’t take away that sheet of paper because I earned that degree,” Nielson said.

Jared Dauenhauer, Student Activities Council adviser, has volunteered with Room in the Inn several times in the past and said he enjoys developing relationships with the men.

“When you come talk to these guys, you realize how many of your preconceptions are misguided, whatever they may be,” Dauenhauer said. “A simple conversation can reveal so much about another individual. You just have to be willing to have that conversation with someone different than you.”

As Carter and Holcomb enter their senior year next fall, they will be looking for students willing to coordinate Room in the Inn. Anyone is welcome to volunteer and join the men for dinner or a game of cards.

Each month, Carter and Holcomb meet to pick a Wednesday night in the month that will fit best with their schedules.

Most times, volunteers come for dinner at 5:30 p.m. and stay however long they are available or until lights out at 10 p.m. A couple of male volunteers are required to stay until breakfast the next morning at 5:30 a.m.

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The Cardinal & Cream is a student publication of Union University in Jackson, Tennessee. Our staff ranges from freshmen to seniors and includes a variety of majors — including journalism, public relations, advertising, marketing, digital media studies, graphic design and art majors.