Skid Row experience inspires new outreach for Wake Forest
Inspiration often comes in unlikely places. For Paul Loeser, a senior at Wake Forest University, his epiphany hit while on Los Angeles’ Skid Row.
Loeser, who runs cross country and Wake Forest, was in LA for Athletes in Action’s Urban Project last summer when he got the idea to replicate what he saw there in his hometown of Winston-Salem, N.C., among “the least of these.”
“While in LA, we went to Skid Row, and a church there has karaoke every Wednesday night. That was one of my favorite things, just seeing all the support and encouragement and seeing them laugh and dance together,” Loeser said. “I saw a lot of hope there.”
Loeser said the evening ended with the entire group singing “Awesome God” and the moment was quite moving. At that point, Loeser said he wondered why the event couldn’t be done in Winston-Salem.
Once he came back to campus in the fall, he began working through the details with the local Bethesda Center for the Homeless. In February 2011, Loeser kicked off the Wednesday karaoke night at the shelter, enlisting a few of the women’s soccer team members to join them. The group brought donuts and coffee, set up their equipment and began inviting folks to come. One of the athletes sang first to break the ice, but from that point on, the fun was underway.
“It’s been good right from the start; everyone had fun the first time we were there,” Loeser said. “At the end of the night we join in on a gospel song together. That’s my favorite part of the night, when everyone is praising God together, despite their circumstances and backgrounds.
“It’s a great example of God’s kingdom on Earth, with everyone united and praising Him.”
Loeser said 4-12 athletes from Wake Forest participate in the at least once monthly karaoke ministry, and most who come once return time and again, drawn to the opportunity to minister to the residents. He said it has been great to see how God has used the open, encouraging atmosphere of karaoke to lead to deeper conversations about faith and the chance to encourage folks about their circumstances.
“It goes both ways. They also encourage us and we enjoy that night as much as they do, from all the hope we see there,” Loeser said. “It’s really uplifting for the students and eye-opening to see how we’re not very different than people living in the shelter. It helps you put yourself in their shoes.”
Clyde Manning, development director at Bethesda, said the evenings are an important part of the atmosphere of healing that affects clients positively.
“I love that people who can’t sing will get up and sing and be applauded by their peers. All of a sudden people are motivated to perform because they know they’ll get a great reception. I love that extraordinary support from our clients, who may not even know each other,” Manning said. “It breaks down barriers between clients. It’s good for our community to provide this safe environment for folks.”
Loeser has been involved in Athletes in Action since the second semester of his freshman year, connected to AIA director Joe Haynes through a family friend. He attended AIA’s Ultimate Training Camp that first summer, then agreed to serve on the leadership team his sophomore year. The next summer, he attended the Urban Project in LA.
Loeser is studying biology and Spanish at Wake Forest with the goal of attending medical school and working as a doctor in underserved areas or with infectious diseases. He said participating in AIA while in college “has helped me to grow spiritually and personally and that has extended to opportunities to put my faith in action. That has made a huge impact on my life as well. It’s a challenge to work all that in but there’s nothing I’d rather do.”
By Teresa Young, AIA Communications
Photos (courtesy Amy Price, AIA): Above right, Wake Forest athletes kick off the karaoke numbers to break the ice at Bethesda Center. Above left, Loeser (second from left) and fellow athletes Alisha Woodson (soccer), Michele Lange (track), and Nick Millington (former soccer) have been involved not only in AIA on campus but with the karaoke project as well.
16. November 2011 10:35
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