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Student Puts the ‘Hospitality’ in Homeless Center

Nick Anderson stands in front of a New London Homeless Hospitality Center bus.

For sophomore hospitality management major Nick Anderson, working as a volunteer at the New London Homeless Hospitality Center (HHC) has been an opportunity to practice his professional skills and gain insight into the complex issue of homelessness.

“During my volunteer work, I am constantly reminded why I chose hospitality as my major. I love working with people by helping them with their issues and making everyone feel welcomed and included in my work,” said Nick.

He volunteers weekly at the HHC as a service-learning project for his sociology class on social problems, taught by Professor Nancy Parent, Ph.D.

“I work at the help center, mainly at the mail desk where I sort and hand out our guests’ mail. I have come to admire the mail system and its importance to homeless people for whom getting mail is nearly impossible, and the problems with this are endless. Services like food stamps, Amazon packages, and court documents are sent by mail. If mail is not responded to, services might be rescinded and, in the case of court papers, warrants can be sent for otherwise minimal offenses,” he said.

On further reflection he said, “I find it hard to understand why homeless people are expected to send and receive mail in a timely manner if they do not possess a stable address. System inconsistencies like this are the reason why homelessness is, and will remain, a large problem if reforms are not made to accommodate people in diverse living situations.”

Learning About the Complexities of Homelessness

Through his sociology class, Nick has come to understand the complex issues that go along with homelessness, including mental health, drug addiction, and domestic violence.

“There are always difficulties in people’s lives, and being homeless only compounds those problems. Using something called intersectionality, we have learned about how each issue can affect other issues, making the big-picture understanding of societal issues easier,” he said.

Nick said that he has drawn on a variety of Mitchell Abilities during his work at the help center. He uses critical thinking and problem-solving skills to “tailor my help for each person I work with. There is never a one-size-fits-all answer to any given issue.”

He also recognizes the importance of effective communications and social interaction with guests at the HHC.

“Using thoughtful communication helps me deliver amazing service to everyone, and social interactions are critical for everyone, especially homeless people. Everybody wants to feel accepted and validated, and my work at the shelter allows me to do just that. Social interactions with guests are as important as my office work because both actions help the community improve their lives,” said Nick.

Nick also relies on the practical knowledge he has gained through his hospitality classes, including “management skills to lead others, and knowledge to provide compassionate help and useful guidance” to those he encounters at the shelter.

“I have learned the difference between empathy and sympathy,” he said, “and take ownership of what I do not know or what I have not experienced. I work at the shelter to help others, and people come to shelter to be helped. As long as we have the same goals in mind, we will make the world a better place.”

Growing in Confidence

Another job responsibility is receiving and transferring incoming calls to the shelter, something that was a challenge in the beginning.

“Confidence is my main challenge with everything, in that even though I know what I am doing, I still doubt my ability. When I started volunteering, I was terrified of answering the phone because of my fear that a question would be asked of me that I could not answer. Now I love taking calls because I am confident in my abilities, and I know where to look if I do not immediately have the answer.”

He added, “My service-learning has helped me gain confidence doing something that I love, and my favorite part of this experience is being part of something bigger than myself. I love working alongside other volunteers and employees who help the diverse community of New London.”

In addition to his work for his service-learning project, Nick is president of the Mitchell Hospitality, Event & Travel (MHET) Club, which he restarted after a few years of inactivity. The club coordinates with various groups across campus to host and volunteer at activities.

“I love the community at Mitchell College,” he said. “I am constantly amazed by the variety of people that I interact with every day, and I have found friends who love many of my interests as much as I do. I have also found the professors to be dedicated to their jobs and never hesitate to help me improve myself for my future work. If I am struggling with a topic, they help me understand, and when I want a challenge, I am encouraged to go above and beyond and dive into topics that I find especially interesting.”

Nick has found Mitchell College to be the right mix of support and opportunity, with experiences like his service-learning project with the HHC.

“When I was looking for a college, my main issue was finding a place that could support my needs and adapt to my improvements as I grow. Other schools either had full academic support with no way of shedding it as a student improved, or little to no academic support. Mitchell offered the best of both worlds. As a student in the Thames at Mitchell College program, I learned how to live independently in a college setting, effectively using my time to both study and spend time with friends. Now, as a sophomore, I have been accepted into the Honors Program and take classes to challenge my abilities and have access to support if I should need it.”

learning about homelessness and hospitality through service-learning, Mitchell College
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