Meg Short '16

10/11/16

Bluffton graduate explores innovative housing solutions during service experience

Recent Bluffton University graduate Meg Short ’16 from Archbold, Ohio, has undertaken a year of voluntary service work to discover more about the poverty and the conflict that exists within the world. “I chose to do voluntary service for a few different reasons,” Short said. “I knew I wanted to immerse myself in a place entirely outside my comfort zone after returning from my cross cultural trip to Botswana.”

Short is doing her work through Mennonite Voluntary Service at Delivering Innovation in Supportive House (DISH) in San Francisco, Calif., where she acts as a supportive housing associate.

“I am passionate about the work done through Mennonite organizations all across the globe,” Short said. “I think what makes these organizations stand apart from others is their commitment to joining the peace and justice work already being done by locals, instead of trying to march in and convert locals and ‘fix’ everything, as is sometimes the case.”

In her position, Short handles administrative and marketing work to help plan events for DISH employees and residents. DISH is one of many nonprofits in San Francisco working to end homelessness in the city.

“DISH seeks to end homelessness by getting to the root of the problem—that there are not enough low-income homes for the number of individuals living on the streets,” Short said. “There are roughly 7,000 unhoused persons in San Francisco and shelter beds for only 3,000. We are property managers for six converted hotels and are able to offer permanent housing and life-affirming activities to 450 of these unhoused persons.”

Working with DISH, Short gets to experience the change that the housing can make on the individuals. “Permanent housing gives our tenants a sense of security, a place to keep their belongings and lay their heads at night, and an uplifting family.” DISH offers a first step in helping with the larger issues the tenants face. “Once the basic need of housing is taken care of, people are able to work on other aspects of their lives—overcoming addictions and strengthening their communities. DISH believes that everyone deserves a home. We work hard to restore dignity to lower-income individuals who have been ostracized in our society,” said Short. “We provide more than shelter and necessary resources, we provide a loving community and a sense of security."

The transition from rural Ohio to fast-paced San Francisco was something Short struggled with at first. “Being surrounded by people all the time can get overwhelming! The city noises at night took some getting used to after growing up surrounded by cornfields!” However, the new setting gave Short a different worldview and connection with people.

Short also experienced the culture through her journeys to and from work. “Taking public transportation or walking or biking everywhere is a new experience, but a helpful one in empathizing with the city's lower income individuals.” Each day, Short walks through one of San Francisco’s greatest poverty-stricken areas known as the Tenderloin where she has had many eye-opening experiences.

“Having grown up and gone to college in Ohio, I wanted to fully immerse myself in a city totally unlike what I am used to,” Short said. She sees this as an opportunity to expand her understanding of life in any setting and to step out of her comfort zone to learn and serve more effectively. “The experience of pushing yourself to start over and live somewhere where you know no one is definitely scary, but so important.”

Short relates her time of voluntary service to Bluffton’s cross-cultural programs that encourage students to explore, learn and serve while moving beyond their ordinary comforts. “This is why Bluffton's cross-cultural program is so worthwhile,” she said. “It forces students who may have never experienced life outside the Midwest to broaden their worldview and realize that they could live in an environment they might have never considered before.”

Reflecting on some of her memories of college, Short continues to see a relation between her experiences at Bluffton and her voluntary service. “Another component of Mennonite Voluntary Service is living in intentional community with others. The MVS house is great "practice" for the real world, since I lived in residence halls and ate meals in The Commons during college—it's sort of a transitional place between on-campus living and adult life,” she said. She added that Bluffton values of community and respect play key roles in living with her new housemates.

Throughout her continuing experience, Short looks to expand her knowledge and apply what she has learned to further her service work and engage with the city that surrounds her. “Through Mennonite Voluntary Service, I hope to be able to empathize with a demographic I might not have come to know and understand otherwise,” Short said. “I will continue to find ways to use my education and skillsets to serve other communities—seeing each individual I come into contact with as a person worthy of dignity and respect.” 

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Cara Echols ’19 student news and feature writer