UTSA students give Haven for Hope common room an extreme makeover

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As part of a social work course, UTSA students renovate a room at the Haven for Hope agency.

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(May 6, 2013) -- Last month, students in the UTSA Department of Social Work in the College of Public Policy dedicated a room on the Haven for Hope campus that they spent the last three months renovating and furnishing as part of an extreme-makeover project they organized over the course of the semester.

Residents from Haven for Hope, UTSA faculty and staff, city officials and Bill Greehey, chairman of the board of NuStar Energy L.P. and NuStar GP Holdings LLC, attended the ribbon cutting ceremony April 29.

The renovation project is part of the Under Construction: Keeping Hope Alive project organized by students in the Advanced Communities course at UTSA, in collaboration with the Center for Health Care Services of Bexar County and Haven for Hope. Each semester, the course takes classroom learning into the community through hands-on projects aimed at transforming lives. The class was taught by Robert Ambrosino, senior lecturer in the Department of Social Work.

"The students were responsible for all aspects of the project," said Ambrosino, "including procuring the resources needed to carry out the makeover, recruiting residents to participate in the various makeover activities, promoting the work of the project in the community, seeking in-kind and other donations, and organizing the final event."

The renovated room at Haven for Hope is used both as a meeting room for educational programming and a shared space for residents. As part of the renovation, students worked side-by-side with residents from the In-House Wellness Dorm at Haven for Hope to give the room a new paint job, new furniture, two computer workstations with new laptop computers, bookshelves and an accompanying collection of books, a new DVD player, an assortment of DVDs and a new area rug.

"Inspiration for the project came from a desire to create a legacy and the goal of creating an opportunity for students to actively engage with their clients -- in this case the men's wellness dorm -- to create a meaningful change initiative," said Ambrosino.

This is the fourth project one of Ambrosino's Advanced Communities class has completed as part of its initiative. The first project consisted of focus groups and town hall meetings with members of the San Antonio community to solicit ideas about the design elements of a mural found near the entrance to Haven for Hope.

The second project, Right Foot Forward, involved creating an adult recreational soccer program for the Haven residents that culminated in a soccer tournament involving teams of residents, Haven staff and UTSA students.

The third project, The B Heard Music Café, involved the creation of a music café that brought musicians from across San Antonio to provide entertainment to the Haven residents that culminated in an all-day music festival that involved more than 20 musicians and musical groups including many from the Haven community.

"The impact of these projects is two-fold," said Ambrosino. "First, the projects are intended to help dispel the common stereotypes that many members of the community have about homeless individuals. The second and equally important impact is to engage the talents and skills of homeless people who otherwise live a marginalized existence and are discounted at every turn."

The UTSA Department of Social Work, Haven for Hope and the Center for Health Care Services of Bexar County expect to continue the partnership program in the coming years. Haven for Hope is the largest homeless transformation campus in the United States. The organization provides housing, health services, spiritual support and programming for more than 900 homeless men, women and children.

>> Learn more about the UTSA College of Public Policy Department of Social Work.