Q&A with UWM Book Drive Creator Lauren Nelson

During the months of February and March our Her Campus Events Director and UW-Milwaukee senior, Lauren Nelson, collaborated with UW-Milwaukee’s local sorority, Kappa Tau, to organize a book drive that benefited Milwaukee Rescue Mission’s Safe Harbor and Joy House, an organization close to Nelson’s heart. Through many social media posts and some grass-roots marketing, over 160 books were collected at the book drive which was tabled by our contributors and the lovely member of the Kappa Tau Sorority. After such a successful event, we caught up Lauren to ask her a few questions about the awesome book drive:

Her Campus ContributorWhere did your inspiration to organize a book drive come from? 

LN: The idea actually appeared out of thin air one night. I was in the Union in early February and saw this homeless man who always hangs out in the union just staring at a wall. The man is always in the union and never bothers anyone. He never asks for money or heckles people for food; he just sits quietly and keeps to himself. After I passed him, I couldn’t stop thinking about how bored and restless he must get just sitting there. I get bored watching just Netflix, so I can’t even imagine what it’s like not to exercise your mind at all. I really wanted to ask if he would like a book to read but got too nervous to ask because I was afraid of a negative reaction. Then my thought process started snowballing and I started tweeting: is there a place homeless people can go to check out books? If they can’t read is there a place they can go to learn? Is there something I can do to help them? I did some research and I found the Milwaukee Rescue Mission. After that everything fell into place.  

HC Contributor: Why did you choose to donate the books to the homeless? 

LN: Honestly, it’s because I was blown away and heartbroken by the facts my research turned up. Milwaukee is the third poorest city in America, with a poverty rate over 26 percent. That’s more than 170,000 poor people in our city and there are 1,500 homeless on our streets, according to the Milwaukee Rescue Mission. I wanted to do something to help them. With my limited resources as college student I wasn’t sure how to do this but all I knew at that moment was that giving a homeless person a temporary escape from their reality through the pages of book was something I wanted to do. 

HC ContributorWhat research did you find most impactful in preparation for book drive? 

LN:  That too many stereotypes are made preventing people from helping the homeless. Homeless people are more than just the people who are in unfortunate situations or made poor life choices. There are so many reasons that Milwaukee citizen’s end up homeless that include: domestic abuse, divorce, death of a spouse, eviction, mental illness and drug abuse, and these could happen to anyone.  

It was also overwhelming to read these facts for the first time. These are facts that most of the public have never been exposed to and wouldn't know unless they did their research. I think that the first step in helping the homeless is educating the public on the facts and getting rid of any stereotypes people have. And the second step, do something about it—like hosting a book drive! 

HC Contributor: How does the Milwaukee Rescue Mission impact the Milwaukee community? 

LN: The Milwaukee Rescue Mission is an amazing resource! It has five major programs that assist those in need. The two programs we donated books to were the Safe Harbor for Men and the Joy House for Women. 

Her Campus Contributor: What is their Safe Harbor program?

LN: Safe Harbor is a resource that men in crisis can utilize to start a new life path. The program ranges from meeting short-term emergency needs to providing longer-term services that can help them break free from addictions, keep a job and build confidence and self-esteem to turn their lives around. Within the Safe Harbor there are three different programs.

Guest Ministries is for men facing personal crises. Guest Ministries assists them in overcoming their short-term emergency issue while giving them extended support to stabilize their lives. The services include: meals, shelter, clothing, counseling, education and job search resources. 

The New Journey program is for men who want to break their addiction. Participants of the program are men who are willing to commit to the hard work that will change their lies. The program includes: daily bible studies and personal development, computer-based and instructor-led education programs, GED preparation and testing, work therapy, on–the-job training and personal mentoring, educational support, financial and legal guidance and assistance in securing employment and housing. The goal of the New Journey program is to help each man develop stability in his life so he can move back into the community.

 The third program is Following Our Commitment Under Supervision (Focus) and it’s for men who have completed the New Journey program. The six-month transitional living program helps men take further responsibility for their own lives and in this program they receive additional support and guidance to help them make a more successful transition back into the community. The services provided by this program include: assistance in securing employment, managing finances, handling legal issues and finding strength through Christian counseling.  

HC Contributor: What is their Joy House program?  

LN: The Joy House is a resource available to women and children facing homelessness. The program includes long-term or short-term help though Christian-based programs that help women and children rebuild their lives and get back on their feet.

The New Life program is the first step. In this program they will receive job search training, basic adult education, Christian counseling and education, parenting and life-skills classes, financial management principles and one-on-one case management.

The Fresh Start program is a six to 12 month transitional program that builds on the new life program by providing women and their families with the additional support and training needed to ensure long-term success in their new lives. In this program, woman receive healthy choice training, time and money management counseling, in-depth parenting skills and job training.  

HC Contributor: What was it like working with both Her Campus UWM and Kappa on this event? 

LN:  Bringing two of my favorite student orgs together to impact our community was so fulfilling and the planning process went so smoothly. I personally have a problem delegating tasks so when contributors and writers stepped up to help it made me feel supported and it was honestly the best feeling in the world. Woman from both orgs were blasting their social media with information, reaching out to professors and collecting books from friends and family weeks before the book drive. Leading up to the event, I was a little nervous about how the two orgs would interact but the energy was light and high the day of the book drive and the way every woman came together and positively impacted the success of the book drive was refreshing to watch.  

HC Contributor: What was your reaction to the success of the event? 

LN:  I was so scared that only 20 books would be collected! But as students and faculty kept showing up to donate books I felt an instant moment of relief. Most people would complain about having to bring boxes and boxes of books up to their apartment, but I was so excited that night I even canceled a first date I had to stay home and count the books.  

HC Contributor: What was the most rewarding part of organizing the book drive? 

LN: Knowing that these books will transform someone's life in a positive way, even if it is small. When we dropped off the books we were informed that the Milwaukee Rescue Mission just started a K-11 school and that some of the books would be used in their new English programs.  

HC Contributor: What other philanthropic plans are in your future? 

LN:  I am so excited to share our next philanthropic collab! Her Campus UWM and Kappa Tau sorority are going to have a Mother’s Day feminine hygiene product drive to benefit the Milwaukee Rescue Mission’s Joy House. The fraternity, Phi Sigma Kappa, has even expressed interest in getting involved after they saw the success of the book drive so to me that is super exciting another org on campus our seeing the influence we have. More info about the event will be posted on the Her Campus UWM and Kappa Tau social media so keep a look out!