Danielle Johnson was aware of Compass House long before she and some of her students from the University at Buffalo’s Daniel Ackers Scholars Program ever became involved with community service projects at the facility.
Johnson is the coordinator of the Ackers Scholars Program and serves as one of its academic advisors. She also happens to be friends with a Compass House staff member.
For nearly 40 years, Compass House has provided safe shelter and services to runaway, homeless and at-risk youth. It is among the nation’s oldest shelter and service providers for youth of all gender identities.
Touched by the Compass House mission, Johnson and her students organized a collection of personal items, everything from socks to hairbrushes. They assembled the items into individual kits and presented them to the Compass House staff on the day of their community service project.
“It doesn’t sound like much, but when these kids enter the shelter they have immediate needs,” says Johnson. “Just having a new bar of soap and a tube of toothpaste means a lot to them.”
The UB students also had a chance to speak with the kids in the shelter. The group had lunch together, played games and talked about college. Johnson listened to the stories, witnessed the engagement and remains moved by the bond created in the moments her students and the shelter’s residents were together.
“These are kids going through difficult times, but they immediately opened up and blossomed when we sat down with them,” she says. “They are loving and receptive with a genuine joy that their circumstances have not taken away from them.”
The success of the personal items project two years ago motived Johnson and her students to repeat the drive last winter.
She says the kids want to move forward. She can feel them reaching for goals, a vulnerable population, at a critical development stage, often arriving at Compass House through forces beyond their control.
“What the kids receive through the Campaign for the Community can give them a better chance to have a good life,” she says. “They have so much to offer, so much to give. All they need is a little support to help them get through a tough stretch.”
Johnson says she plans to continue her contributions in the years to come and hopes others will join her in making such an investment.
“It’s fulfilling,” she says. “And being with the kids at Compass House warms my heart.”