Alternative Research Project: Thurman Brisben Center

Emily Curtis

December 4th 2015

Dr. Martin

Thurman Brisben Center

I decided to do the alternative research project for my second project because I went to the Thurman Brisben Center a couple of different times over the course of the semester. The first time that I went, I went with my church, volunteering in the kitchen. We prepared the food, we served the residents the food, and we went out and sat with them as they ate and talked with them for a while. I’ve gone with my church twice this semester alone to volunteer. I went again with a couple of my friends from UMW and decided that I wanted to do things a little bit differently to see if the interactions were the same coming from a church group and coming from a University.

When I was with my church, we were all wearing aprons that said ‘Bethel Baptist Church’ and when I went on my own, I was wearing a UMW sweatshirt. When with my church I sat with multiple different people for a few minutes at a time socializing with them and talking about why I was there. With my church, it was a much different atmosphere. They knew I was volunteering because I wanted to and that I was with a church so it’s a different feeling. But when I was wearing my UMW shirt, and talking with them, I would say that I went to the University and that I was volunteering to get out in the community and do something to engage in the community but I wanted it to be personal, and beneficial.

The reactions weren’t the same. I didn’t encounter anyone who was rude or unfriendly, but I could tell that they felt differently hearing from a UMW student than hearing from someone volunteering from a church. The quality of the conversations weren’t the same. I didn’t sit with individuals as long as I did before. It was a much different situation than what it was with my church group. It was so obvious that the difference was because I was in UMW attire and told them that I went to the school. I’m sure that being in a homeless shelter and having your food prepared and served by a 21 year old UMW student isn’t a pleasant feeling because of the fact that me going to the university makes it seem that I have money and that I’m more privileged to be able to afford something like that while they can’t afford to have a home. I had people ask me if I paid for school or if my parents did. I also had someone ask me if I was there volunteering because I was required too for community service for a class or because I wanted to be there. I related this to the course because I think that money can relate to power. And I’m sure that the people who I encountered may have felt the same way.

My church has volunteered at the Thurman Brisben Center for years. I haven’t always been able to go, but every time that I did I would sit and talk with parents of kids, I would play with the kids and color with them. But when I went on my own, it was a much different experience. The younger kids obviously didn’t know the difference, so I still played with them a little but it was not as comfortable of an experience as it’s always been. I think that the idea of being a wealthier and more privileged college student had a lot to do with the differences in my experiences. I hope that it isn’t something that made those who are at the Center resentful or uncomfortable with being helped by a college student. Being helped by a church is something that is in a way expected or more normal, but being helped by a college student isn’t.

3 thoughts on “Alternative Research Project: Thurman Brisben Center

  • December 7, 2015 at 9:42 am

    Thank you for both sharing this perspective and for volunteering at the Thurman Brisben Center. I would not have foreseen such a varied response either and I appreciate the opportunity to read about your experience. We do not have a homeless shelter in my town. We have a “warming shelter” that moves (with transportation provided) from church to church of participating churches during the cold months. Each participating church hosts the warming shelter a week or two and provides the meals, shelter, necessities, referrals and fellowship. The people who would like to eventually have a formal homeless shelter have visited and met with the Thurman Brisben Center as a guide.

  • December 7, 2015 at 5:22 pm

    I think that this is so fascinating. I’ve never thought about the difference a volunteer’s identity makes for the people being helped, but it totally makes sense that it does. And I can see how it’s more normal or expected for a member of church to volunteer, but it breaks my heart a little to think of people asking you whether you wanted to be there or were there for a class at school.
    This really makes me wonder about what a “normal” volunteer is and if there are different “normal” volunteers in different service situations.

  • December 11, 2015 at 6:35 pm

    I think the difference in perception and the power dynamic you mentioned are fascinating when comparing the church and how the community perceives people who are helping to the college and how that is perceived. While a a college student may be thought of to be a person with privilege (not always the case) a church member may be thought of to be expected like you said. I enjoyed reading your comparison!

Leave a Reply