Activism

Do Better Challenge: Austin Atheists Helping the Homeless

This post shows you how easy it is to actually make an immediate difference in someone’s life.

I have been talking with Brittany Shoots-Reinhard who is coordinating The Week of Action with Foundation Beyond Belief. The idea being that whether you pray or reason in the first few weeks of April, spend the last week actually doing something to help your community. They have a wonderful list of suggestions for action you can take and I plan on highlighting this project again in the coming weeks to hopefully get some more of you involved. But if you have time go take a look at what they are doing. It is worthwhile stuff that more of us should care about.

In my discussion with Brittany, she directed me to someone who is participating in the the Week of Action project and does so every month in Austin, Texas.

Angel is the communications volunteer at Austin Atheists Helping the Homeless and was kind enough to answers some questions and explain how you can help too.

I made some art to go along with the interview.

1. First tell me a bit about yourself, Angel. Do you identify as atheist, skeptic, humanist or other and for how long?

I identify as both atheist and humanist. While atheism affirms my theological view; humanism encompasses my worldview. My journey from theist to atheist was a year and a half long and I officially came out in an accidental way in August 2012. How’s that for a teaser? If details interest you, read the story here.

2. How and why did you first get involved with Austin Atheists Helping the Homeless?

In November 2013, I read a Facebook comment about a secular group that distributes items to people experiencing homelessness in Austin. That peaked my interest because homelessness is a cause of interest to my husband, who is also atheist, and I was looking for a volunteer project we could do as a family on a regular basis. It was a bonus to find an opportunity to volunteer with other nonbelievers. I contacted Joe Zamecki (the person who wrote the Facebook comment and one of the AHH founders) for details and we started volunteering in December.

faceless people sm

3. What specific project are you and your group working on now and why do you feel it is important?

Austin Atheists Helping the Homeless is now in its 5th year. Our number of core volunteers is small but dedicated. We focus solely on distributing basic living items to people experiencing homelessness. Tangible donations are accepted year round then distributed once a month at “giveaways.”

We set up our tables in the same parking lot as faith-based groups. Many of those groups recite sermons or play religious music while helping but we make it a point not to preach atheism (or agnosticism or skepticism or any other -ism). We’re simply there help some people in need and show that doing good does not require belief in a god.

It’s also worth mentioning these events are excellent opportunities for younger people. We don’t impose a minimum age requirement and we’ve had kids from preschool through college help in various ways from collecting donations, to sorting items and unloading them at the giveaways. They get to be a part of the process from start to finish. Not only do they have the chance to work with older, secular role models, they also see first hand how a concerted effort helps our community.

4. Has it changed your life or how you look at the world since you have begun doing this type of volunteer work?

I wouldn’t say it has changed my life but it has reinforced my values.

5. How can you determine if your work is successful in helping the community. How do you gauge success?

Success equals empty boxes at the end of our giveaways! Seriously, I know our efforts won’t eradicate homelessness. It’s a systemic problem that’s too complex to be solved by an hour-long giveaway once a month. If what we do helps someone get through the next few days, that’s success. If it helps debunk the negative stereotypes about atheists, that’s even better. Hearing comments like “Thank you for not trying to tell me about Jesus” and “Atheists aren’t as bad as they make you out to be” are icing on the cake.

homeless person sm

6. How can other people get involved if they would like to help out?

The best way to stay in the know is to subscribe to our announcements at www.atxahh.com. We’re also on FaceBook at www.facebook.com/atxahh. If you’re in Texas but not close to Austin, there are other Atheists Helping the Homeless groups in Dallas/Fort Worth, Houston and San Antonio.

Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us and thank you so very much for all the work you do. It really makes a difference. Also, a big congratulations from us here at Skepchick for being awarded the Beyond Belief Network’s March 2014 Team of the Month! Keep up the great work!

BNN+Mar+2014+TOM

Now, if you can, please consider getting involved in the week of action and in the mean time please keep being vocal about volunteer work and charity organizations that are important to you. Even if you can’t physically participate in a project, you can help spread the word by sharing projects like the one here and spreading the word about the people that are doing good work or the good people that need assistance.

*Both paintings © Amy Davis Roth. “Sleeping Homeless Person” inspired by and based on an image found here: http://www.homeless-oftheworld.com/homeless-colombia/

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Amy Roth

Amy Davis Roth (aka Surly Amy) is a multimedia artist who resides in Los Angeles, California. She makes Surly-Ramics. She is the fearless leader of Mad Art Lab. Support her on Patreon. Follow her on twitter: @SurlyAmy or on Google+. Tip Jar is here.

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