Cataylst for Change: Leadership Education for Individuals Facing Homelessness

The Problem

Homelessness is a pervasive and widespread issue that is an underlying and unseen social concern. Reports from the National Law Center for Homelessness and Poverty estimate that 3.5 million people experience homelessness each year (NCH, 2007). Depressingly, instead of working to end the issue of homelessness, many Americans allow for their stereotypes and false perceptions to misconstrue reality of those facing homelessness and further disempower individuals. This idea is supported by Harris and Fiske's (2006) research finding that when individuals are shown images of homeless individuals, people respond with feelings of low warm and low competence. This response illustrates the severe prejudice and dehumanization individuals' experience when labeled with the term homeless. In understanding the deep and oppressive social structures that contribute to homelessness, I recognize that this project cannot eliminate homelessness. However, this project is aimed to challenge the public's perception of the homeless and demonstrate their remarkable qualities. In addition this project plans to work with individuals facing homelessness and help them gain self-empowerment and greater self-esteem. This focus on one's personality will help enable individuals to reconnect with their lives and community. Moreover, this project also hopes to resolve the leadership deficit among the underprivileged. Historically, leadership has been used as a tool for social change, yet only taught formally to those of privilege. Overall, this project is working at the core to challenge peoples' perception of homelessness and offer leadership opportunities to individuals' facing homelessness.

Plan of Action

I plan to work with the Interactive Resource Center (IRC) in Greensboro, NC to carry out this project. The IRC is a homeless day center that offers support and resources to individuals facing homelessness. I have interned at the IRC for five months and had the opportunity to build connections with clients and have gained an understanding of the programs offered. During this time I recognized the need to incorporate leadership education in the organization. Therefore, I envision offering strengths based leadership and goal development workshops. For strengths based leadership I hope to use the Strengths Quest, an online survey, to help clients identify, articulate and understand their strengths. The goal development aspect of the workshop series will utilize individuals' survey results to discuss how people can build goals using their strengths as well as teaching the fundamental importance of making goals. Through these workshops it is hoped that individuals will be able to recognize themselves as leaders and take control of their life as well as feel more confident about themselves and their life. Ultimately, this project will measure its success by asking individuals to complete pre-post surveys studying self-esteem and self-efficacy. If the project proves successful and individuals demonstrate growth, I hope to work with the IRC staff to fully incorporate this project into the job training program. With intertwining the project into the job training curriculum I believe individuals will be able to use the strengths they learn about in important job interviews, helping improve the conditions of their life.

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