About This Project - by Jill Kronstadt, Associate Professor, English

In Fall 2011, at Montgomery College's Germantown campus, my Basic Writing II class had a theme of homelessness and community engagement. As part of this project, we read Jeannette Walls' memoir The Glass Castle; volunteered for service learning project related to homelessness in Montgomery County, Maryland; and wrote essays that connected our reading and service learning.

This fall, with the help of Germantown's Service Learning Coordinator, Kris Borcherding, our class volunteered for service projects that would help shed light on the memoir. Most of the class participated in Montgomery County's first-ever Homeless Resource Day, with a few other students volunteering to tutor children in math, serve Thanksgiving dinner to families in poverty, or bag nonperishable foods for kids who would otherwise go hungry over the weekends.

On October 19, 2011, Montgomery County bussed homeless people from shelters and encampments to a central location in Gaithersburg, Maryland. Students who volunteered at the Homeless Resource Day guided these homeless guests through a maze of medical, dental, mental health, personal care, and social services that had gathered in one location for one-stop access to resources. The day was a huge success, with MC students earning particular kudos for their dedication, enthusiasm, and generosity.

The essays that follow are based on the reading and volunteering we completed during the semester and were written, revised, and edited entirely by the students. Not all the students elected to have their essays published on this website, but the ones that did show growth in both writing and awareness of the issue of homelessness.


Jill Kronstadt
Associate Professor, English
Montgomery College
Germantown, MD

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Life, Seen through the Eyes of the Homeless by Olivia Howell

The first and only time I ever rode with Gus to school was the day of our community service project, Homeless Resource Day. We got up and hour earlier than on a normal day, it was raining and seemed to be starting as a very gloomy day. We talked about how we were nervous and didn’t know what to expect. We both thought it would be somewhat awkward, and that it was going to be a long four hours.  After meeting my client, Liza (not her real name) I realized that not all homeless people are like Jeanette Walls alcoholic and absent father, Rex Walls from The Glass Castle. After reading the novel we have the view of a father who from the time Jeanette was born, was really not very stable and somewhat selfish, and never really provided for his family. The entire time we made our way through Homeless Resource Day, Liza was ensuring the retrieval of necessities for her husband. After meeting many of her friends I realized that these people had a different view than the Walls in the way they live their lives; from their levels of self-determination, willingness to help their families, and their attitude about accepting charities.

The first difference between my client, Liza and Rex Walls is their level of self-determination. From what we learned in the book Rex Walls has a serious drinking problem that is drastically affecting his family. At one point in the book Jeanette asks her father to stop drinking and he does but not for long (117). His method of breaking his addiction is tying himself to his bed for days without food and water (122). This being unethical of course, results in no positive change in his behavior and he returns to his old ways. During our time at Homeless Resource Day, Liza made sure to make it to every station. She was constantly reminding me to take her to every medical and dental station, and get at least one of everything. She was much more positive and upbeat hoping to gain something to benefit her and her husband. Furthermore, she is aware that she is homeless and she will do anything she can to accommodate her and her husband. Consequently, I came to the realization that some homeless people care about themselves and some don’t, the ones who do are more often than not more determined.

The second difference between Rex and Liza is their willingness to help their families. In the novel we are constantly reminded how Rex is regularly absent from his family. For example, Rex and the family receive a ride from a woman and she exclaims she couldn’t “leave those poor people out there.” When the woman dropped them off Rex left and three days later he returned (121).  Instead of being there for his family when they may have felt uncomfortable about the comment just as much as he did, he disappeared, whereas Liza is there for her family. At Homeless Resource Day there were 4 different quads with numerous stations in each. Liza came prepared with multiple bags and after going through each quad, her bags had piled up and I had to help her carry all of her bags. So even though we were struggling with all he “luggage” she was still willing to do this for her husband, her family. Homeless people have the same choice as any person to be there for their family, it’s a personal choice and a matter of how you play the cards you’ve been given.

The third and final difference between Rex and Liza is their attitude about accepting charities. In the beginning of the novel we learn that Rex and RoseMary don’t like the idea of accepting charities (5). Contradictory to this, neither of them have jobs, thus forcing the children to provide for themselves. Further into the novel, we learn that the children have been saving their money for a couple of years and they hide it in a piggy bank. One day they check on it and it is gone, and coincidentally Rex had been gone for three days (228). Instead of getting a job to support his family or accepting charities that they could have received, he steals his children’s money.  On the other hand, Liza was taking all she could get. Her attitude was if it’s here, I’m taking it. She said thank you at every station to every person. She was grateful and appreciative of everything she had been offered. The decisions made by Rex and by Liza will affect their families, and once again it is a personal choice for each person to rise above what has been given to them to improve the welfare of their families.

My day had most definitely brightened up after spending time with my client at Homeless Resource Day. From Rex Walls and Liza I gained knowledge that when being homeless you must overcome your insecurities and do whatever it takes to support your family; most importantly when you have little power to do much about it. Ultimately my outlook of homeless people had changed. I now understood that anyone can be homeless and either make the best of it, or just not deal with it. I felt like I had done an admirable deed, and that I had assisted her and made her Homeless Resource Day as great as she had mine.

Are the Walls More Good Than Bad, or More Bad Than Good? by Teresa Downs

In the book The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls, the story tells us readers about living life on the run, and often homeless. The Walls are a pretty dysfunctional family, who encounters a lot of tough situations. There’s not a day that goes by without someone getting hurt one way or another along with ridiculous dreams and empty promises. The Walls are more bad than good because the negative outweighs the positive. They are reckless, selfish, and oblivious, is more than enough to back up my opinion.

The first reason that the Walls are more bad than good is that they are extremely reckless. On page forty three, Mr. Walls drives off the road drunk in the dark, with the kids in the back seat, screaming and chasing after his pregnant wife. The Walls parents are putting their wants, and emotions ahead of their unborn child which is taking their recklessness to the extreme. Another time the Walls parents have showed and stressed this quality is on page seventy one, Mr. Walls picks up his wife and puts her outside a window and dangles her out of a window just barely holding onto her in front of their own children and all the neighbors. This is another form
of being extremely reckless and letting emotions take over their control. No one should put a loved ones life at risk like that. None of the above is appropriate qualities a parent would want their children to carry on or act out.

The second reason why the Walls are more bad than good is because they are very irresponsible. Mr. Walls can’t keep a job page sixty seven. The longest Mr. Walls has ever been employed is six months. It is impossible for Mr. and Mrs. Walls to be successful nor a positive role model to their children if they can’t keep a job. Another reason Mr. and Mrs. Walls are irresponsible is because on page twenty nine Mr. and Mrs. Walls leave the children in the car to “catch a quick nip.” The father spends all of his money on boos. It’s one thing to admit, and personally accept alcoholism, but to use that as a personal excuse to “get your fix” is entirely irresponsible. Leaving young children alone, in a vehicle for hours at a time is very selfish, as well as irresponsible. No loving role model parent should do any of those things to or in front of their children!

My third reason the Walls are more bad than good is because they are oblivious. On page thirty Jeannette falls out of the car while her drunken father makes a sharp turn and it takes them a whole entire day to realize she’s missing and to come back for her. I can only imagine how the poor girl felt being alone is the dark in a dessert. Jeannette probably thought they weren’t going to come back for her just like they didn’t come back for her cat! My second example is on page forty six, the Mom and Dad were “running out of the hospital, cradling a bundle in her arms giggling sort of guiltily like shed just stolen candy bar.” Mr. and Mrs. Walls are entirely oblivious when it comes down to the safety and well-being of their children. No one should ever run around with a newborn baby in their arms. She shouldn’t be running after just giving birth to a baby, It’s awful to be parents and to be so oblivious.

The many instances in the book show numerous times they have committed thoughtless, careless and out of control behavior. The Walls are endangering not only their family, but also the people they drive by on the road, and pretty much anyone they come into contact with. In real life the parents could be arrested, the children would be taken away by child services, and the parents would lose custody of the kids. If driving drunk in real life, not only is the driver putting themselves at risk, everyone else around them is at risk as well.

Service Learning Project by Daniel Martinez

When Volunteer work is brought up it immediately sparks up a reaction, it can be excitement, curiosity or agony.  The volunteer work can be directly from the heart of the volunteer or in most cases mandatory.  As part of a class requirement, I am going to participate in a service learning project called Homeless Resource Day at Bohrer Park Activity Center.  On this day, I will assist with the set up, clean up and a greeter.  It is important that I bring my best qualities that are needed in a volunteer such as cooperation, courteous, and a positive attitude.

Cooperation is a quality that I posses and is what makes me a great volunteer.  This quality is important because the service learning project will be done as a class, therefore it is a team effort.  Cooperation is essential if a team wants to do well, by participating and helping each other it makes all the difference for the event to run smoother. Following the rules is a part of cooperating. If all volunteers pitch in and cooperate in an event of a problem the matter can resolved much quicker than from just an individual effort.  My cooperation comes into play when I am asked to complete training for the event.  In this training I will pay attention and learn it to my best so, when I am asked to exercise it I am able to attend to the guests better.

Another important quality that I plan to bring with me to my project is being courteous.  Being courteous to the guests, other volunteers and program directors that way it is easier to be approachable if help is needed.  The guests should feel welcomed because I am there to assist.  In past volunteer experiences I have practiced being courteous and saw the huge difference it made.  For example, when I was a greeter I made sure that I was being as polite as possible to the guests and I noticed that I made myself more approachable and people didn’t hesitate to ask me any questions because they knew I would have been more than glad to answer.  In that situation I was able to see the positive effect that I had on our guests.

In this service learning project a quality that I intend to bring to make me a great volunteer is a positive attitude.  I believe that without this quality none of the others are possible.  A positive attitude from each volunteer will just make everything fall right into place.  A positive attitude will contribute to the atmosphere.  The positive energy that one must bring should be so obvious that can rub off on others and give that little extra boost.  For example, I am not a morning person I struggle in having high spirits so early.  When I had a co worker that every morning was always so jolly, enthusiastic, and energetic I fed off him to get me through the day.  My co worker helped me without even knowing which made me realize that the right attitude can go a long way. 

In conclusion I am fully embracing this experience of being a volunteer for this service learning project and look forward to bring my volunteer qualities.  I am hoping that I am the beneficiary that I can develop new skills, help build a better community, and do my part to try to end homelessness.  Although, the number of homeless families is at a staggering rate, by contributing I hope it inspires other to do so and we can begin helping together one family at a time.

What Makes a Good Volunteer? by Brady Patton

When I first heard that we would be volunteering to help the homeless for my EN002 class, I didn’t understand why we even needed to. But as I started reading Jeannette Walls, The Glass Castle, I started to understand the importance of volunteering and I liked the idea that I would be helping people out. I know that I will make a good volunteer because I’m flexible, hardworking, and organized.

The first quality that makes me a good volunteer is that I’m flexible. For instance, my friend needed a replacement for that night, so I flexed my schedule to cover his shift. As a result, he got the job that he wanted. Another example of my flexibility is when I got to work one day, my boss asked me if I could pull a double shift, so I called my friend and told him I had to cancel to impress my boss. As a result my boss gave me a raise after two months of working there. Being flexible will help me be a good volunteer because I can change my schedule to help on more important days.

The second quality that will make me a good volunteer is that I’m a hard worker. For instance one day I helped out my boss by training the new worker without pay. As a result my boss gave me more time on the schedule. Another example is when I showed up early too help setup when I wasn’t on the clock for another 30 minutes. As a result my co-workers started doing the same thing to help out my boss. Being a hard worker will help me be a good volunteer because people see me working hard and I can motivate them to work hard themselves.

The third quality that will make me a good volunteer is that I’m organized. For instance I was given a list of what I had to do, but not what was the most important. So I made a schedule to make sure that I got everything done on time. As a result I got to go home early because I finished early. Another example is when I organized the toy room at my church without being asked, because it’s making me mad because it’s dirty. As a result the kids started cleaning the room every week. Being organized will help me be a good volunteer because I will always know what to do all the time.

When we volunteer to help the homeless next month, I know that my flexibility, hardworking, and organization will make a difference. My feelings about volunteering for class has been changed, and I’m excited to go out there and help the homeless. I know that I will always remember that we volunteered and it will be an experience that I will suggest my friends do when they have the available time.

Useless Resource Day by Kristina Marsh

The dentist at Homeless Resource Day was extremely friendly to the clients. Her perfect, sparkly teeth smiled at my clients yellow stained chipped mouth. Julie watched intensely as the dentist examined her grimy mouth. Although Homeless Resource Day was a resourceful day it didn’t offer full time help. If Welch had a Homeless Resource Day, things would not change for the Walls. This is because the Walls are unwilling to accept assistance. What would happen if they did attend, though, is that they would get clothing, food assistance, and jobs.
If the Walls went to Homeless Resource Day, the first resource they would contemplate getting would be clothes. The family would try and get winter jackets, boots socks, and gloves. Rosemary would then become greedy and grab more clothes then they actually needed. The kids would then be embarrassed by their mother, like when she made them shoplift (111). As a result of this, the children would tell their mother she was being selfish and needed to put the clothes back or they would tell security. Their reaction to this is similar to the time Rosemary was eating chocolate under the covers when the children had no food (174). Unfortunately, this resource would not be beneficial for the family because instead of them getting clothes it would turn into an argument about how the mother is selfish and ungrateful.

If the Walls went to Homeless Resource Day, the second resource they would attempt to get would be food assistance. Rex Walls would then tell the children that they did not need the assistance because he was bringing home enough food for their survival. However, the kids spent most of their time at school digging through trash cans to get food because they were not getting any at home (173).  Jeannette then would stand up and defend the fact that they really needed food assistance because they had none at home and tell her father he was a useless drunk. As a result of this Rex would then beat Jeannette in front of all the volunteers and the other homeless people. This is just like the time Rex beat Jeannette at their house for talking back to Rosemary (220). Instead of this resource being beneficial for the family it would result in Rex Walls getting kicked out and Jeannette being furious with the family.           

If the Walls went to Homeless Resource Day, the third resource they would aspire to get would be jobs. Rosemary would look into getting a job as a teacher to help her family financially. Unfortunately if she did get the job she would stop going. Just like in the book, Jeannette, Brian, and Lori would begin to do her work for her (74). As a result of this the kids grow to resent their mother because she would be unwilling to sacrifice her dreams as an artist to support her family. This is similar to the time Rosemary picked her art work over watching her own children when they were younger (3). The children would then decide nothing could help their family or motivate their mother or father and all four children would then leave for New York earlier than they did in the book.  Overall, Homeless Resource Day would separate the family and they would grow apart from each other.

The Walls children would really enjoy the opportunity to get the resources at Homeless Resource Day. However none of the resources would have any effect on the family’s lifestyle. Once the clothes got old, the food ran out, and the parents lost their jobs, the kids would return to their same poor life. In the end the children would leave for New York just like they did in the book. Homeless Resource Day would unfortunately have no effect on the Walls family.

The Walls' Life Choices by Kelly Parker

In her memoir The Glass Castle, Jeannette Walls writes about growing up in an unstable environment as a child of an alcoholic father and a stubborn, self-absorbed mother. Jeanette, her brother and two sisters move around the country, homeless most of the time. Instead of taking care of their children’s basic needs Mr. and Mrs. Walls, spend their money on Rex’s alcohol and Rosemary’s painting supplies. As a result, the children are forced to fend for themselves. The family is ultimately more bad than good because the parents are selfish, irresponsible and lazy.

The first reason the Walls’ are more bad than good because they are selfish. For instance Rosemary gets a candy bar and doesn’t think to share with her children. “Lying on the mattress next to mom was one of those huge family-sized Hershey chocolate bars, the shiny silver wrapper pulled back and torn away, she’d already eaten half of it” (174). This shows that the mother is selfish because she puts herself before her own children who are starving. Another example on how the parents are selfish is they spent weeks on preparing for their first Christmas and Rex ruined it. For the first time the Walls’ were going to celebrate Christmas on Christmas day. The kids were all excited for their first Christmas sitting by the tree ready to open presents but Rex is extremely drunk and lights everything on fire, ruining what was a very important day (115). After everything was ruined, they were unable to have their presents and a good memory of that day. Rex never apologized or even acknowledged he was in the wrong. This shows that the parents think of themselves first and do not put their children and their needs first.

The Walls’ are more bad than good because they are not just selfish but also irresponsible. Rex and Rosemary do things without thinking. Safety never seems to come to mind. “Suddenly, with a bang, we hit a huge pothole and the back doors on the U-Haul flew open…We were afraid we were going to get sucked out, and we all shrank back against the prospector” (49). The parents should have made other arrangements for the children. Instead of being responsible, they did what benefited them more. Another example is when Jeannette was in the hospital for her burn, Brian got a serious head injury. The parents did not take him to the hospital, which he needed care. (13) Parents have to take care of their children and keep them safe. Based off examples in the book I have grown the impression that Rex and Rosemary’s decisions are irrespirable.

The third example that shows why the Walls’ are more bad than good is that they are lazy. Throughout their lives, the Walls’ children not only had to take care of themselves but as well as their parents. Everyday the children had to get their mother out of bed and get her ready for work. (74) Without her children’s help, Rosemary would not be able to hold her own job. If the children did not help their mother, Rosemary would lay around all day.  Not only is Rosemary lazy but Rex the father is as well. “After he polished off each beer, he used the can to repair one of the holes” (101). After drinking many beers, the dad attempted to fix the holes in the floor with the beer cans instead of doing it the correct way. The parents are lazy and not driven.

The lives of all Four Walls children would be completely different if they had been brought in up differently. Although Jeannette is a well-known author, showing that she is someone today due to her past. I believe that if they had a permanent home, clothing and food they would flat out have had better remembrance of their childhood. Throughout the book shocking moments like her fathers drinking and mothers, selfishness is more than enough for children to go through. Taking out the negative would make them a happier more stable family. Regardless of how rich or famous someone is in the end, having a good memory of a childhood is important.

Truth behind the Homeless by Josh Krasner

When I awoke on the day of Homeless Resource Day, I’d forgotten that it was Homeless Resource Day, but I knew that there was something important was going on that day, I just couldn’t figure out what. It wasn’t until after I’d taken a shower, put on my usual white T-shirt, blue jeans with my leather jacket, ate my breakfast, brushed my teeth, and got into my car, that I remembered that it was Homeless Resource Day. I ran back inside to get the directions to the garage where I could park my car. It took me a while to get to the garage, due to traffic, but when I finally arrived at the parking garage, it took me five minutes to find a parking spot, on the fifth floor. When I arrived at the place where Homeless Resource Day was being held, I found that I had to sign in, get a volunteer T-shirt, and walk around so I knew where every station was and what every station held. When Homeless Resource Day started, I was surprised to see how many people showed up. I thought we weren’t going to have enough volunteers to escort everyone that showed up. I wasn’t surprised that I didn’t feel nervous at all, since I’ve volunteered for similar events like Homeless Resource Day before. My client, Alice (not real name), was overjoyed at Homeless Resource day. Alice reminded me of Rose Mary from The Glass Castle, but not by her being Homeless, but she reminded me of Rose Mary, because of the way Alice acted, Rose Mary should have done the same. Alice and Rose Mary are different through their work ethic, their personality, and how they react when they receive help.

The first difference between Alice and Rose Mary is their work ethic is that Alice is a hard worker. For example, during Homeless Resource day, Alice kept saying how nervous she was for a job interview she had later, and that if she got the job, it would be her third one. Even though it was Alice’s third job, she seemed excited to get that third job. On the other hand, Rose Mary hates having just one job. When Rose Mary had a teaching job in Welch, she hated it so much, that Rose Mary acted like a little kid, and wouldn’t get out of bed to go to work, and her excuse was that she was an excitement addict (Pg. 207). After seeing how excited Alice was on getting a new job for the third time, and reading how Rose Mary always avoided getting just one job, I realized that not all homeless people are like Rose Mary, who avoids getting a job. Hearing that Alice was going for a third job showed me that Alice wants to have a better life than she has now.

The second difference between Alice and Rose Mary is their personality. Alice is a kind person. When Alice was finishing with Homeless Resource Day, she grabbed two bags, filled one bag with clothes that can keep you somewhat warm and filled the other bag with clothes that can keep you warm in any kind of weather. When I asked her why she did that, she said that the bag with all of the warm clothes was for a friend of hers that was too sick to come, and the other clothes were for her. While Alice was showing her kindness by looking out for a friend of hers, Rose Mary showed her selfishness by hiding a family sized Hershey’s candy bar from her own children, who were already starving enough as it is. When the kids find out that Rose Mary was hiding a chocolate bar and eating it for herself, Rose Mary’s only excuse was that she was a chocolate addict (Pg. 173-174). Seeing what Alice did for her friend and reading what Rose Mary did to her own kids made me realized that not all homeless people are selfish at all, and do care about other people more than they do themselves, even though they may not be able to afford basic necessities.

The third difference between Alice and Rose Mary is how they react to receiving help. Alice accepts any help she receives. For example, Alice knew that she needed help with her finance, her health and her teeth. The way Alice put it, “I need help with everything.” She was so happy that she could finally get help with the problems Alice had. On the other hand, Rose Mary refused any help that was available to her and her family. When the Walls moved to Phoenix, AZ, Lori needed glasses. When Lori got her glasses, she let Rose Mary try them on. From Rose Mary’s expressions, you could tell that Rose Mary needed glasses, but gave them back to Lori, saying she wasn’t seeing better, but different. (Pg. 97). Seeing how Alice wanted help from everything at Homeless Resource day so Alice could get her life on track, and reading how Rose Mary refused help, even though Rose Mary needed help badly, showed me that not every homeless person likes to live the life they have.

As I left Alice and headed back to the shuttle, I realized that homeless people aren’t the kind of people I thought they were. I thought that they were people who held signs so they could get extra cash. Alice was different: She had three jobs and a child to care for. She got in the situation she is in, for reasons I promised her I wouldn’t tell, and she was doing all she could to get out of that situation. I had a new feeling for her and other people who in the same situation, and sense of pity, but pride. They know how important basic necessities are that people who aren’t homeless miss completely. I now cherish everything I have, for Alice would absolutely love to have the things I have. I now know that not all homeless people are like Rose Mary, who just look after themselves, but that most of the homeless people are actually kind hearted people.