Empathy Lessons

In addition to their regular coursework, middle school students at All Saints Episcopal School get the opportunity to spend one day every year living like a home-less person.

Called Project Empathy, the exercise gives 7th and 8th graders a chance to see first-hand the struggles of our local homeless population. By any measure, All Saints students are a privileged lot. Their campus houses state-of-the-art educational and sporting facilities. The majority come from well-to-do families who are not lacking the security of homes (or even vacation homes for that matter). But the annual experience strips away all the comforts of home.

Students spend the night outdoors with only a cardboard box and a blanket to shelter them from the elements; no food, no cellphones, no pillows to pass the night. “It was really cold on Feb. 20. I only got about 30 minutes of sleep that night, between being hungry, uncomfortable and cold. It is hard to take it in that some people have to sleep like that every night,” said 8th grader Cameron Lawrence.
In conjunction with the night outdoors, students often choose to fast for 24 hours, from lunch on Thursday until lunch on Friday. “It’s an option for us if we choose to fast, but homeless kids don’t have the option of when or how much they eat,” said Lawrence.

Lawrence said, “The best thing we can do is to not judge homeless people for their circumstances. It really reminded a lot of us about how much we have and how fortunate we are.”

Students also organized a blanket drive that was split between Union Gospel Mission and the Presbyterian Night Shelter in the weeks leading up to Project Empathy.

When the rest of the student body arrive on campus for school the following morning, some of the “homeless” students hold up signs asking for money from carpools passing by. (Any money received is then donated.) Occasionally a car will slow down and crack the window just enough to hand them some change, but most ignore them and simply drive on — just like in the real world.