Partner Perspectives are written by members of the Community Consulting Board through the Center for Civic Engagement. These articles provide examples of partnerships, best practices, and other insights from the viewpoint of Illinois State University’s community partners.
By Matt Burgess, chief executive officer, Home Sweet Home Ministries
Every year, on the first Friday in February, Home Sweet Home Ministries holds their annual Night In A Car event, a fundraising and awareness activity focused on driving out homelessness in Central Illinois. The event serves as a unique experience for all ages. Families, individuals, organizations, businesses, and HSHM staff volunteer to spend the night in their cars either from their own driveways or in the parking lot at the event location.
While only for one night, Night In A Car provides a real glimpse into the realities of facing homelessness through Bloomington’s harsh winters. In addition to spending a cold night in their vehicle, participants are offered interactive educational experiences throughout the evening. To accommodate the need to provide a socially distant, safe experience in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s educational activities consisted of a virtual scavenger hunt, a “choose your own adventure” style homelessness simulation activity, and recorded messages from Home Sweet Home Ministries staff on the importance of understanding the effects of trauma on the lives of people experiencing homelessness.
Several teams comprised of Illinois State University staff, faculty, and students now participate regularly in Home Sweet Home Ministries’ signature fundraising event. One of those groups is the Alpha Beta chapter of Epsilon Sigma Alpha. For the past three years of the event, Cassie Little and her sorority sisters from Epsilon Sigma Alpha have joined the challenge of participating in the event. This year, the service and leadership sorority had a total of 59 members, comprising 10 separate teams, participate, and they raised several thousand dollars between them. The partnership they have developed with Home Sweet Home Ministries has helped take the event to a higher level of success than ever before. Night In A Car 2021 successfully raised over $130,000 from over 1,300 individual donations and sponsorships.
“Personally when I was younger and in elementary school, I did have to live out of my car for several weeks,” states Cassie. “It was a really challenging experience, but it made me stronger. “I participate in Night In A Car because I don’t think there is enough awareness about how hard it is to get back on your feet after you’ve been exposed to homelessness,” she continues.
“Participate” is actually too mild of a word to describe Cassie’s involvement in Night In A Car. In addition to rallying her sorority to be heavily involved, Cassie helped other, new participants in this year’s event by speaking at the kick-off Zoom event in early December. She shared her wisdom and lessons learned with new participants and made suggestions on how teams could creatively fundraise. Of particular help was Cassie’s leadership in sharing information about using virtual “bingo cards” as a method to gather multiple donations through social media platforms. In a year shaped by the COVID-19 pandemic, the creativity, enthusiasm, and advocacy Cassie and her sorority sisters brought to the event was a true catalyst to success.
“I think our community should be coming together to help people in those situations,” says Cassie. “I don’t ever want anyone to feel like because they are down on their luck that they don’t have someone they can reach out to for help. I would love for our community to reach out to those individuals and be here as a support system.”
We invite you to join us as a participant or sponsor for Night In A Car 2022, scheduled for February 4, 2022. Whether you choose to sign-up or donate, you will be joining ISU students like Cassie Little in helping fight the stigma of homelessness and supporting local efforts to “drive” it out of the community. For more information, please visit nightinacar.org or reach out to Home Sweet Home’s Donor Relations Coordinator, Todd Keller at (309) 319-2839 or firstname.lastname@example.org.