Student ‘sleep-out’ in Southington shows solidarity with homeless

Student ‘sleep-out’ in Southington shows solidarity with homeless


Pastor, Dawn Karlson, second from left, joins with dozens of teens participating in a Youth Solidarity Sleep-Out to raise awareness for homelessness at First Congregational Church in Southington, Friday, January 16, 2015. | Dave Zajac / Record-Journal

SOUTHINGTON — First Congregational Church on Main Street welcomed high school students who attend Plantsville Congregational Church, Gishrei Shalom Jewish Congregation and the Berlin Mosque Friday night to a “sleep-out” intended to show solidarity with the homeless.

About 35 students from the four houses of worship planned to brave single-digit temperatures with below-zero wind chill factors and sleep at least part of the night in homemade cardboard box shelters in First Congregational’s parking lot.

“It had to be one of the coldest nights of the year,” said Barbara McKay, Plantsville Congregatonal’s youth director.

“I am happy there’s no snow on the ground,” said the Rev. Dawn Karlson, First Congregational’s pastor for youth and family ministry.

Karlson organized the event, which she hopes will become an annual tradition.

She emailed other local churches to invite them to participate.

“Our church really got excited about this,” McKay said.

Students enlisted sponsors to financially support their participation, she said. Donations were also accepted.

The money raised will be given to Southington Community Services to help fund the agency’s programs that assist the homeless.

Karlson kicked off the night by having the interfaith group stand in a circle and hold hands.

“Thank you for all standing together” against homelessness, she said.

Marci Baxter, Gishrei Shaom’s youth adviser, said people from different religions can find common cause in trying to aid the homeless.

“It’s an issue for everybody,” she said. “There’s something we can all do about it.”

“I think it’s an important thing to get our youth together,” added Aida Mansoor, a Sunday School teacher at the Berlin Mosque and president of the Muslim Coalition of Connecticut.

“It’s excellent to get people to start thinking about homelessness,” she said

Gishrei Shalom’s youth program is part of the North American Federation of Temple Youth, a Jewish youth organization that is “big on social action,” Baxter said.

However, students need to take part in experiences like the sleep-out in order to grasp the meaning of that ideal, she said.

“Those are just words until you do something like this,” she said.

Dan Epstein, NFTY’s Northeast representative and a Cheshire High School senior, joined the Gishrei Shalom contingent to support the Baxters and to gather with peers from other faiths to grapple with the issue of homelessness.

“I like (socially) active teenagers,” he said. “I like when teenagers talk about important things.”

After Karlson’s introduction and a few ice-breaker games, the group was slated to see a program on homelessness and conduct an outdoor prayer vigil for the homeless, after which they would assemble their box shelters.

The police and fire departments had been notified of the sleep-out and were prepared to respond in case of emergency, Karlson said.

Students were scheduled to spend two-hour shifts in the frigid night inside their boxes, although some planned to be outside the whole night, she said.

Ben Gaedeke, a junior from Plantsville Congregational, was one such hardy soul.

“I wanna feel what (the homeless) feel for a night,” he said. (203) 317-2242 Twitter: @JeffGebeauRJ

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