By Nadia Smith and Tyler Whetstone
Tiffany Bell used to see the same homeless woman downtown. Now, she knows her name is Anne and she has spent most of her Friday nights this year hanging out with her and other homeless people under the Jefferson Street Bridge.
Bell, a senior, is one of about 10 to 15 Trevecca students who spend their Friday nights partnering with the Salvation Army to feed the homeless and the working poor downtown through a grassroots service group at Trevecca called Under the Bridge.
“I feel like that’s what we’re supposed to do though is to make friends with (the poor) and we accomplish that,” said Bell.
Trevecca students have several official and unofficial ways of serving in the neighborhood. From after-school tutoring programs, to overnight shelters for the poor, service is a way of life for several students.
The location of the school offers access to many non-profits and organizations who are working to address issues of poverty in the neighborhood.
Trevecca is located less than two miles from downtown Nashville where 18.9 percent or 122,527 people live under the poverty line according to the Tennessean.
Trevecca is part of District 19, home to two of Nashville’s poorest housing communities where over 16,000 have a median income of $9,000 a year.
“I just feel like it’s a Christian responsibility. We shouldn’t depend on the government to do it. It’s the church. It’s what we’re supposed to do,” said Nikki Betchel, junior and volunteer for Under the Bridge. “It’s what God wants us to do, to plant the seeds and just taking the steps to help restore creation like He intended it to be.”
Trevecca’s J.V. Morsch Center for Social Justice was started five years ago to help students like Bell and Betchel serve where they feel called.
The Center uses its resources and contacts throughout the city to assist students who want to get involved, said Jamie Casler, director of the Center.
Some students are capable of ministering without the Center’s help, and Casler supports that too.
“So if you wanted to start a homeless ministry and you had your own contacts and your own resources that’s great,” Casler said. “We bless you and say, ‘We want to come along side you and support you if you need any resources or help.’”
Unlike other universities, Trevecca does not require a certain amount of community service hours in order to graduate. Students who serve, do so willingly.
For Bell, it is about creating meaningful relationships.
“And that’s what we’re doing when we come here because we can see them every week and we can ask them about their progress and how they’re doing or how their health is this week compared to last week or if they got money this week from the government or whatever,” Bell said.
No matter how students serve, serving is for everyone Casler said.
“(Serving others is not just) if you major in social justice or the helping profession, religion major, social work and social justice. That’s what they do,” he said. “No, the message should be, that’s what we all do.”