In order to change the world, you have to ask hard questions.
So says “Urban Spirit,” a Kentucky-based poverty immersion program that offers an up-close picture of the poor. A group of Columbus-area teens in a three-year-old group called Infusion will travel to Louisville, Ky., this summer to live among and learn about the working poor — those who have jobs but struggle to make ends meet.
But first, they’re serving up soup on Friday for a fundraiser to raise money for the trip and their group. The fundraiser will also serve a third purpose: To collect canned soup for two local charities, the Lazarus Society in Phenix City and Columbus’ Uptown Food Pantry.
Infusion resembles a melting pot.
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“They come from various faiths, schools and cultures; and we’re assisting them with struggling with issues in our community,” said Lisa Shaw, one of the volunteer adult leaders of Infusion and the youth director at St. Thomas Episcopal Church.
Infusion members are in 10th, 11th and 12th grades. There are 15 in the group now. A partnership with Columbus State University Servant Leadership students provides additional mentors. Each class lasts an academic year.
One of the CSU Infusion mentors is Brandon Hussey. In his third year at CSU, Hussey wants to work for NASA some day. Meanwhile, a helpful tool for him in servant leadership has been the discovery of personality tests that help leaders assess the way people process information. This branch of study is called Emergenetics, with four main groupings of how people think and behave.
“It helps me view the world from a different angle and understand people in it more,” said Hussey, who’s from Woodbury, Ga. “It helps you understand going into a team setting and recognizing the concepts better.” For instance, if you test as a “red” person you are social, and “yellow” means you process things conceptually; green is structural and blue is analytical. For leaders, it helps to know how to organize these four categories of people in a group setting, or in a business.
One of the Infusion high schoolers is Cedric Hill. A junior at Columbus High School, Cedric is in his second year as an Infusion participant. Last year, he and the others traveled to New Orleans to assist in Hurricane Katrina rebuilding.
“It was fun. It got tedious during the day, but it left my mind after awhile and it was fun,” said Cedric, a member of the Impact Center off Victory Drive.
In monthly Infusion meetings the teens process what they’re learning about people on the margins of society, which includes the financially poor, but also “the hungry, homeless and hopeless,” Shaw said.
The group’s sponsoring organization is Chattahoochee Valley Episcopal Ministry, whose missioner, Vicky Partin, works with Infusion’s director Chris Ross.
The Very Rev. Doug Hahn of St. Thomas serves as Infusion’s spiritual adviser.
The canned soup drive on Friday goes toward Ross’ stipend, as Infusion stays afloat solely through donations.
Drama students at Central High School in Phenix City will present “The Many Faces of Hunger” during the event, and the school’s culinary arts students will provide the dinner.
Through Infusion, Cedric said he’s been able to learn about the down-and-out in a more personal way.
“You know they’re there,” he said, “but this brings more awareness.” The group also goes on two retreats annually: one in the spring and one in the fall.