Freshmen Cap Semester Project with Toy Drive


ST. LOUIS — According to The Encyclopedia of Homeless by David Levinson, there are at least 1.35 million homeless children living in America at some point during any given year. These children are often without food and are much more prone to disease than other children. As the father of a 7-year-old son, Jack Bennett, assistant professor of physical therapy at Maryville University, is passionate about making a difference in the lives of these children.

Bennett instilled his passion into his Freshmen Seminar class at Maryville, which devoted the entire fall semester to the issue of homeless children. Inspired by the movie, “The Pursuit of Happiness,” Bennett formulated a plan to enrich the lives of children living at Karen House, a homeless shelter in North St. Louis County. “I realized that my son has advantages that others don’t,” Bennett said. “I also stopped to think that anyone can easily be brought into a situation like that unexpectedly.”

On Tuesday, Bennett delivered to Karen House about 15 boxes and bags of toys donated by Maryville students, faculty and staff during a two-week toy drive. Any toys that Karen House can’t use will be given to other charities, Bennett said.

During freshman orientation, Bennett divided his Seminar class into groups, according to their majors. He assigned each group the task of organizing ways to develop community awareness of the plight of homeless children. “For example, the business majors organized a toy drive and took care of the public relations for that, and the health professions students prepared a report on what effect homelessness has on children as they age,” Bennett remarked. Also, earlier this semester, six students went to Karen House to tutor children in reading and math.

The business majors also worked throughout the semester on an emotional and eye-opening Powerpoint, which was shown twice to the Maryville community. This presentation informed viewers of statistics related to child homelessness. However, the majority of the students’ talk highlighted their experiences and feelings as they visited Karen House.

In the video, students discussed how they discovered that many children living at Karen House were very bright and happy, despite their situation. Though they were shy and withdrawn the first day, the children began to warm to the group and started bonding with the students. Bennett said it was clear to him that the Maryville students who visited the house walked away with a tremendous feeling.

Several students found the experience to be rewarding and have agreed to keep the movement going. “I think they have all realized that just because the class is done, the work doesn’t need to be,” said Bennett. The students have been discussing possibilities such as creating a student organization or even a foundation to continue helping homeless children in the St. Louis area, he noted.

“I cannot even begin to express how proud I am of these students,” Bennett said. “From the very beginning, they each embraced the project with emotion and dedication. I watched them form bonds and attachments with the children at Karen House that I was not expecting.”

Maryville University is a private institution offering approximately 50 undergraduate, seven master’s and two doctoral degree programs to 3,422 students. Ranked by U.S. News and World Report as one of America’s Best Colleges, Maryville University prepares its students for successful and meaningful careers. Among Maryville’s most recent graduates, 94 percent are employed or attending graduate school. Approximately 15,000 alumni work and live in the St. Louis region.