Joining forces for ‘soul work’

Collin Stevenson is a cross-country runner, an international affairs student and an ROTC cadet. He also spends his Monday nights shaking awake D.C.’s homeless to deliver them a meal.

The senior is involved in a ministry group called the Bethlehem Rebounders.

The Rev. Harold Gray, who doubles as a professor at Howard University, started the project five years ago. Each week, 15 to 20 volunteers, mostly students from Howard and GW, gather at Union Station to begin their night.

Hot dogs are cooked and assembled with water and a bag of chips before the group begins to deliver the meals – about 70 a night. They walk inside and around the train station, going toward Newseum and Navy Memorial on most nights. They sometimes end up as far away as Chinatown.

“It’s at night when you really take a second look,” Stevenson said. “Everything is still and you can really see people who are out there.”

Rebounders differs from many community service projects in the District because it is not trying to increase its volunteer base or ground traveled, volunteers said. Instead, they focus on the homeless people they see each Monday night and make sure the experience feels genuine and personal.

Rebounders “is something that is hands-on and face to face,” said James Garris, a senior at Howard. “We’re not just putting money in a box, or giving away clothes or food to a shelter. We are actually helping and giving to the people directly.”

Being in such close contact with the people they feed also means that the Rebounders not only see the real horrors of homelessness, but volunteers also grow to know the people and their stories. Some are as heart-wrenching as one man whose family lives blocks away, but will not allow him to come over to even use the shower. Others are success stories, however.

“Someone we had been helping for a while finally was able to get off the street and get an apartment, and the reverend was one of the first people he called,” Garris said. “He left a voice mail and told us all about it.”

Stevenson said he has changed how he interacts with the homeless because of the Rebounders. “Generally it’s OK just to say hello to someone,” he said. “You don’t have to give them money or anything, but just acknowledge them as humans. Respect can go a long way.”

Though the Bethlehem Rebounders is a ministry service, Stevenson said that the group itself isn’t so much religious as spiritual. In most cases, Gray is just someone to speak openly with when there is no one else who will listen.

Each Monday night closes with a group prayer.

“Even though we are religiously affiliated, the prayer and the whole experience is different for everyone,” Stevenson said. “I just call it my ‘soul work.'”

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