Five cadets from the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs recently learned about homelessness firsthand.
During a three-week internship, they spent time as guests and staff members of Springs Rescue Mission. The cadets spent their final week on campus evaluating SRM’s strengths, as well as potential growth opportunities.
On Thursday, July 8, the five men presented ideas to streamline and improve programming to a room full of Mission leadership. The audience included President & CEO Jack Briggs, a 31-year veteran of the U.S. Air Force who retired as Major General in 2017. Briggs, who spent the bulk of his military career as a pilot, graduated from the Academy in 1981.
“I’m proud of these men and what they’ve done,” Briggs said. “I just think it’s so cool that they’ve had this experience. It’s something they’ll carry with them throughout their military careers and their lives.”
Here’s what they had to say about how the experience changed their perceptions of homelessness:
Cadet First Class Vincent McDonough
South Whittier, California — Class of 2022
“Before coming to Springs Rescue Mission, I didn’t think too much about homeless people. If I was walking down the street and saw someone, I wouldn’t think much about it. But I’ve learned that each homeless person has their own experience and their own story. Going forward, I’ll be much more prone to stop and talk, ask how they’re doing and if there is any way I can help. I want to engage more with a part of society that seems to be often neglected.”
Cadet First Class Jason Olibrice
Naples, Florida — Class of 2022
“Before coming here, I was more prone to ignore the homeless and not think about them. My experience here has helped me become a more empathetic person and to think twice about how I interact with people on the streets.”
Cadet First Class Colin Renegar
Cookeville, Tennessee — Class of 2022
“Coming in, I feared the homeless to an extent. I was afraid that they would pose a threat to my own health and safety. I’ve learned that they’re all people who have families that love them. They may have just fallen on hard times by no fault of their own. Just lending them an ear and listening was really a humbling experience. Many of them are just like me and grew up just like I did. It was heartbreaking, but it made me realize that this place is here to give hope to people. It is doing more good than most things in this world.”
Cadet First Class Michael Sanford
Cambellsville, Kentucky — Class of 2022
“Going in, I would see homeless people on the streets and feel uncomfortable…. I didn’t know how to interact with them or what to do — it was a weird feeling. But getting here — getting to know them and hearing their stories — that changed. Everyone we talked to was a great person. We heard about their hardships and realized that they’re real people who fell on hard times. It really changed my perspective. Now when I see someone on the streets, I stop and talk to them. It’s great.”
Cadet Second Class Joseph Roy
Burlington, North Carolina — Class of 2023
“Before this experience, I was completely unaware of the experiences of homeless people. The most fascinating and surprising thing to me was that there are so many people who aren’t addicted to drugs and who don’t have mental health problems. They are people who, for one reason or another, have fallen on hard times. They’re just in a rough spot. It was encouraging to see that there is a place like this where people can come to get the help they need to get back on their feet.”