Spring ’17 Community Partner Spotlight: Ritter Center

Shaun Marshall (right) with SL students Emma Tobola (left) and Samantha Easley (center).

Ritter Center provides Dominican students in a variety of Service-Learning classes the opportunity to understand the issues facing the homeless first-hand. Semester after semester, students are able to examine the root causes of homelessness and gain a much deeper understanding into the structural issues and discourses that cause people to lose their homes and make it difficult to rebuild their lives. On a daily basis, Ritter Center provides many tangible resources for people in very difficult circumstances and, very importantly, provides community. An important takeaway for many students beyond the larger contexts that cause suffering, is the ways in which the homeless are dehumanized by stigma and societal views.

We asked Ritter Center staff member, Shaun Marshall, who oversees SL Students a few questions about the benefits of partnership:

How does this partnership benefit Ritter Center?

The Ritter Center benefits from this partnership by having more volunteers in our busy pantry. We are open 40 hours a week and need many volunteers to staff the pantry. In addition, it’s always a benefit to have fresh perspectives from students and it helps us see the Ritter Center pantry and agency through fresh eyes and different backgrounds. Each week the Service Learning feedback via GivePulse is a great tool to get real time feedback from students on the pantry and agency as well as the client- student interaction.

How do you see your own role as a co-educator?

I see my role as a co-educator by helping students understand who utilizes our pantry and some of the root cause reasons why. In many cases, I am able to point out how poverty, physical and mental illness, play a role in the economics and necessity of supplementary food programs for people both on fixed, low, or no income. In addition, I discuss with students how these factors lead to pantry use as well as some of the personality traits and behavior of clients as they use the pantry. Sometimes pointing out why the difference in someone’s behavior is important can show a student how empathy and compassion play a role in dealing with difficult client situations. In conclusion, it is these experiences that help educate students and my role is to bridge the gap.

What is it like to work with Dominican students?

Working with the students is absolutely great for me. I am able to see the Ritter Center through fresh eyes each semester. Occasionally, a student will have prior food bank or pantry experience and it’s good to see how their other experiences compare to the Ritter Center’s pantry. I always enjoy reading the GivePulse Impact entries each week and they give me a platform to respond to the students perspectives the following week when I see them in person.

What do you want people to know about Ritter and the homeless population?

Ritter Center has been serving families and individuals in Marin County who are homeless or at-risk of becoming homeless for 37 years. Our mission is to provide comprehensive and integrated health and social services to our neighbors in need.

All of our clients fall well below the Marin County self-sufficiency standard for their household size. Despite their best efforts, many individuals and families struggle from paycheck to paycheck. They are food-insecure, unable to afford basic health care, and lack reliable transportation. Any unforeseen expense becomes a serious financial obstacle that threatens their ability to pay rent or put food on the table. Some of our clients have disabling conditions that make it impossible for them to work. Others are elderly, on a fixed income, or struggle with substance use issues. From supportive housing and groceries, to health care and counseling services, Ritter Center provides the essential services they need to fill in the gaps.