Four social work majors are putting their skills into practice at a community-wide event this weekend. Seniors Samantha Matsch, Bailey Warpula, Jaisa Hogue and Brandon Melo partnered with Jacob’s Place Homeless Mission to plan Sleep Out Searcy, an interactive event to raise awareness of families experiencing homelessness in Searcy, on Nov. 9 from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. According to the event website, Sleep Out Searcy kicks off the National Week of Homelessness and Hunger Awareness.
This is the first year for the Sleep Out Searcy event to take place. The students involved were connected to the event through their community practice class, taught by Kathy Helpenstill, associate professor of behavioral sciences.
“I chose [to work with] Jacob’s Place because I’ve always had a tender heart for the homeless community,” Melo said. “I’ve done a lot of homeless missionary things, so I just saw this opportunity and I knew I should take it.”
As this is the event’s first year, the students and Jacob’s Place are not sure exactly what to expect from the weekend.
“Searcy has been making noticeable changes over the past few years and I am happy to see that they are expanding their horizons,” Warpula said. “Because this is the first event like this that Searcy or Jacob’s Place has held, we are dealing with a lot of unknowns.
Warpula and her peers said they hope the event not only raises awareness about Searcy’s current homeless population, but also makes a long-term impact.
“We don’t know what the turnout will be like, the success of the activities planned, how many will stay out all night or not, the amount of resources needed as far as not having enough or too much, etc. I have a feeling this is the beginning of something great that will benefit the homeless and hungry in White County for years to come.”
Throughout the night, the Sleep Out will host speakers, community leaders, programs, competitions, video documentaries, crafts for a cause and more. Additionally, Mission Machine, another nonprofit that serves Searcy’s homeless population, will be at the event with sleeping bag rentals for those staying all night.
“I am hoping that through the speakers and the activities that people will understand that there is actually a problem with homeless with homelessness in Searcy and White County,” Matsch said. “I think that there is sometimes a stigma that there is no problem with homelessness since we are not a huge city so I hope that we can educate people with the speakers and the activities.”
The event will be held in the Downtown Searcy Main Street Parking Lot and is open to anyone. For more information or to donate, visit the event page on the Jacob’s Place website.
“There is not much advocacy for this population here, and it seems ironic that the hub of Searcy community is a Christian university,” Warpula said. “I hope that this will get more Harding students involved in their temporary home while they are living here. It is important to be active in whatever community you live in, and hopefully, this event will foster that sense of community and interaction while raising money and awareness for the issue.”