Pitching Tents, Pitching In

Students camp out to draw attention to the plight of the homeless

Shortly after the academic year began this fall, tents began springing up like mushrooms on the lawn beside the Church of the Holy Spirit. First one, then a second. In less than a week, there were about a dozen.

No, it wasn't a new residence option. It was a statement by Kenyon students who wanted to draw attention to the often-invisible problem of homelessness in America. The tent-pitching began with Aaron Clark-Ginsberg '08, an American studies major interested in social geography, or how people relate to the place where they live. Clark-Ginsberg decided to camp out for a month as a fundraiser for the Knox County chapter of Habitat for Humanity and invited his fellow students to join him. They collected donations from friends, family, and local businesses for every day that they slept outside.

Even September's rains didn't dampen his enthusiasm. "I'm from Oregon, so I'm used to this," explained the Portland resident. "My situation pales in comparison to what millions of people face every day in this country. I have the choice of going inside for a shower, a hot meal, a change of clothes."

Clark-Ginsberg received enthusiastic support on campus. Dean of Residential Life George Barbuto approved the project, and a number of student organizations, including fraternities and sororities, joined him for a night, a week, or more. Yana Forney '07, another Portland resident, organized support from Canterbury, the student group sponsored by Harcourt Parish. Donations far exceeded everyone's expectations.

"I was shooting for $720," said Clark-Ginsberg--a dollar for every hour in the month. By the time he pulled up stakes in early October, leaving a brown patch of grass where his tent had stood, he'd collected more than $2,000, with as much as $600 more in pledges still coming in. "I really subscribe to the mantra that Kenyon is a community. But we're educating people here about problems in the wider community."

Going down to New Orleans three times to help with Katrina cleanup--during winter, spring, and summer breaks--made him realize that a big part of any problem is simply lack of awareness on the part of people who might be willing and able to help. "Projects like these," he noted, "create their own momentum."

Clark-Ginsberg's parents are a source of inspiration. "They're big activists themselves," he said. "They've been working for a year and a half on starting a free clinic in Portland, and it opened over the summer. Watching them do good things makes me want to do good things."

For his efforts, Clark-Ginsberg was named a winner of the Franklin Miller Award, given to students who make unusual or significant contributions to the academic environment of the College.