Molloy Students Living the Mission at Boxtown

LI Herald - May 2, 2019

Molloy College's Boxtown Event Helps Homeless Families at Bethany House
By Briana Bonfiglio

Despite the damp weather, several dozen Molloy College students slept outdoors in cardboard boxes on April 25 to raise awareness of homelessness.

The campus gathering marked the Rockville Centre college's 20th annual Boxtown event to benefit Bethany House, a Roosevelt-based nonprofit organization that provides housing, food and other necessities and services for women and children facing homelessness.

Molloy student carrying cardboard boxes

"The number of homeless New Yorkers has been steadily rising over the past decade. On any given night, there are an estimated 3,868 homeless people on Long Island, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Seventy-four percent of them are families with children."

A lot of us walk with our eyes open, but they're really shut," said Juanita Bopp-Doyle, who stayed at a Bethany House shelter for six months in 2009. "We don't want to see homelessness, we don't want it in our yards, we don't want to know nothing about it. But homelessness in Nassau County and Long Island is an epidemic. It's not just a little glitch here or there. It's huge."

Additionally, the Upstate-Downstate Housing Alliance predicted in a recent report that the number of people living in shelters in New York state could reach 100,000 by next year. Currently, the total is estimated to be about 92,000.

To get a box for the night, Molloy students were required to donate - or raise - money and give it to Bethany House when they registered the day of the event. For two hours, from 7 to 9 p.m., they assembled and decorated boxes and got pillows and blankets ready for a cold night on the lawn in front of the college's Public Square.

"It definitely does give you the experience of what it would be like if you were homeless," said Julie Winkler, 20, of Wantagh, a Molloy student who volunteers at Bethany House and raised $100 for the organization this year. "We were cold last year. I remember I woke up at 4 in the morning shaking. It really does provide a good purpose of why we do what we do and why people need our support."

Campus Minister Sister Diane Capuano said she breathed new life into the yearly event when she arrived at Molloy 13 years ago. Though it was always on the college's calendar, Boxtown had seen a lull the year before she helped revive it. Capuano belongs to Sisters of St. Dominic of Amityville, along with Sister Aimee Koonmen, the founder and chief executive officer of Bethany House. Several Molloy students said that Capuano's passion for the event inspired them to get involved.

"These students have all done service throughout the year, but tonight is the night to put themselves in a place where they perhaps could be at some point, but right now they're not," Capuano said. "It's a challenge, but they love it. They have that sense of community, especially when we have the prayer and the women and children speak. That is extremely, extraordinarily powerful."

At around 9 p.m., Bethany House volunteers, some of whom were formerly homeless, sang and told their stories, reminding students why they were there. Bopp-Doyle spoke about Bethany House's mission. Since leaving the shelter in December 2009, she has been volunteering for the organization for almost a decade. "I come back to pay it forward for all that they've done for me," she said.

Molloy student inside a cardboard boxBopp-Doyle spoke of the inspiration women experience when they stay at Bethany House, citing its credit repair, financial literacy, life coaching and parenting programs as essential elements of its mission. "The goal for Bethany is not to interrupt homelessness, it's to put an end to it," she said. "The only thing that lives in Bethany is growth."

Bopp-Doyle called the Boxtown event "uplifting and humbling every time," and thanked students for participating, noting that it helps show the homeless community that they are not alone.

"For students to take this on is just powerful, and it's a blessing to know that they stand out for people who experience homelessness," she said. "It's a beautiful thing."

The message was not lost on the participants, who agreed that Boxtown is a cornerstone event at Molloy and exemplifies its missions of service and community.

"It's a good cause for good people," said student Delaney Kelly, 19. "One of our pillars is community, and it's not even second nature, it's like first nature. This is another way to serve and keep with that mission."

*Photos by Christina Daly/Herald 

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