Students initiate District-wide community service organization

Media Credit: Arielle Bader | Assistant Photo Editor

Sophomores Zohaa Ahmad and Marwa Popal started a D.C. chapter of the community service organization Humanity First to complete service projects like delivering supplies for people experiencing homelessness.

Two students have started an organization to spearhead service projects around the District.

Sophomores Zohaa Ahmad and Marwa Popal registered the Humanity First Student Organization of George Washington – a chapter of Humanity First, an international charity that provides relief to different communities – to coordinate events and long-term projects, like delivering supplies to people experiencing homelessness and conducting weekly volunteer work. Ahmad, the organization’s president, said she and Popal decided last semester to form the organization because their high school chapter of Humanity First was successful.

“Our mission statement is to basically provide humanitarian aid to those who are affected by natural disasters and human conflict,” Ahmad said. “So our purpose, what we are trying to adapt to the D.C. community, is focusing on local initiatives.”

She said the group conducts “mini service projects,” or small activities that impact community members, at each general body meeting. Ahmad said the group most recently wrote letters to kids at the children’s center in the National Institute of Health and decorated cups to collect change throughout the semester to donate to a charity the group will choose at the end of the semester.

“I’m most excited to see the monthly volunteering and how the group grows over time, especially with the committees, everyone is going to be getting very close because we are going to be working really hard on these,” Ahmad said.

She said the group is divided into five committees, four of which are focused on each aspect of the group’s Homelessness Education and Resource Awareness Project: creating pamphlets for the homelessness project, business outreach, organizing care kits and conducting outreach in Franklin Square, a park in Northwest D.C. that is home to a large homeless population.

Ahmad said the group’s main project this semester is working with the Homelessness Education Resource and Awareness project to create “care-kits” to distribute to people experiencing homelessness around the District.

The group’s fifth committee organizes monthly community outreach initiatives, she said. Humanity First members serve meals to residents at N Street Village – a homeless shelter in D.C. that provides resources, like meals and health care, for women experiencing homelessness – every Monday, Ahmad said.

Ahmad and Popal initially applied to be a student organization with the Center for Student Engagement last semester and were denied approval, Ahmad said. She said the two leaders spent the summer defining the group’s goals and structuring the organization, and the CSE officially granted the group approval Oct. 25.

“We are so excited now we can officially work with GW, because before we had to say we were unaffiliated and we were still trying to do events,” she said.

She said the group plans to collaborate with other student organizations – like Global Brigades, an organization that works to improve global health and sustainability, and the Pakistani Student Association – that have similar missions to Humanity First.

“Humanity First is able to tie together these orgs as we do have an all encompassing mission statement and these groups are more focused on one aspect of community service,” she said.

Popal, the group’s vice president, said the organization will focus on projects to combat homelessness this semester but will expand to different community issues in subsequent semesters. Ahmad, the group’s president, said Humanity First D.C. is trying to work with We Are a Family D.C., an organization that delivers groceries to and checks in on elderly residents.

“We like working with other organizations,” Popal said. “We also have a variety of volunteering commitments. The general body things are very low-commitment – anybody can come in, anybody can do an act of service.”

Popal said the long-term projects, like the Homelessness Resource Education Awareness Project and volunteering at N Street Village, allow students to come and help intermittently rather than make a huge commitment to a single project.

“We just want people to feel encouraged to make a change,” she said. “We offer a variety of things to do.”

Sophomore Saron Shara, the group’s co-secretary, said many of GW’s service-based student organizations generally focus on a broader sense of community service instead of honing in on specific service topics.

Shara, who runs the committee that focuses on service projects in Franklin Square Park, said the group will host a clothing drive for individuals experiencing homelessness Sunday to provide people with warm clothes for winter. She said about 300 people are expected to show up.

Shara said she hopes the group will hold a benefit dinner with different non-profit organizations to fundraise for an organization or service project, but the group will have to decide on where to donate the money raised at the event.

“It focuses on the local and global community, and we are basically the first-responders of it all so providing aid to whoever’s in need and always acknowledging that there is a problem because there is always a problem within our community,” she said.

Lizzie Mintz and Lauren Sforza contributed reporting.

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