“Helping People Comes First” – Shan’s Reflection

By Shan Yonamine, Project Assistant 2016-2017


One of my favorite memories as a project assistant was attending Housing and Homelessness Advocacy Day in February.

As my time as a project assistant comes to a close, I can’t help but look back at when I started on the project last summer. I recall looking through our blog and seeing all the posts, events and infographics created by previous project assistants and I was filled with wonder and excitement. I was excited to work on a project that produced such amazing work, but I wondered if I would be able to do the same. One year later, I am happy to say that I have.

AHW Team at SU Sign
I fell in love with every project I worked on but my proudest accomplishment by far was planning our Renters’ Rights 101 workshop. L-R: Me, Mandy, Khadija.

My Proudest Accomplishment

Out of all the things that I have worked on, the thing that I am proudest of is our Renters’ Rights 101 event on May 18. The reason why this event is so special to me is because it was the first time that I got to fully experience planning something from start to finish and it was a true test of my organizational and communication skills.

We started planning in March and it all started with a simple idea – to participate in Affordable Housing Week by hosting a renters’ rights workshop that would be helpful to students, new renters and soon-to-be-renters – and everything took off from there. We wrote a strategic plan, identified our goals, contacted organizations, researched, designed and promoted our hearts out and eventually, everything came together into one awesome renters’ rights workshop. I had never worked so long or so hard on something before and to see it all come together was absolutely surreal.

Skills I’ve Developed/Enhanced

I’ve always considered myself to be a “strong” academic writer; however, working on the project helped me to develop a different set of writing skills. One of the main things that I worked on as a project assistant was creating content that could be used for advocacy.

For me, this meant writing posts for our blog. Shortly after writing my first post, I found out that writing academically is very different than writing reflectively. For the first time in college, I was able to write from my own perspective and share my own thoughts and opinions. Being well versed in this type of writing has helped me tremendously in my pursuit of a professional career by allowing me to refine my cover letter and professional biography to include my own voice and writing style.

In addition to writing, I have also developed important planning and organizational skills. When planning events, I was responsible for writing strategic plans, creating timelines, disseminating press releases, etc. And, even though it was a lot of work, I could not be happier that I learned how to do these things because now I am leaving with a robust portfolio and a wealth of knowledge.


Shan Streetwise Create Change Bubble
The first project that I worked on was “Streetwise: Revisited.” The film “Streetwise” drastically changed my views on youth homelessness.


What I Learned About Family Homelessness/How My Views Have Changed

In addition to technical skills, I have also learned so much about homelessness, how it affects people and how we can work to end it. I must admit that before I worked on this project, my knowledge of homelessness was very limited. I knew that homelessness was an issue but I didn’t really understand how people came to experience homeless much less how homelessness could be prevented. The truth is that before this project began, I thought of homelessness as an issue that was very far away from me, something I would probably never experience.

My views on this issue have changed drastically. The single most important thing that I have learned since is how easy it can be for people to fall into homelessness. A great example of this is the film “Home for Sale” by Laura Jean Cronin, part of the American Refugees project.

The film features a couple touring an “abandoned” home. This tour was juxtaposed with the story of the family who previously lived there but were forced to leave when they could no longer pay their mortgage. This short film serves as a powerful reminder of how easy it can be to fall into homelessness and how easily it can happen to anyone.

Note: Read a review of the film by our former project assistant, Emma Lytle. 


AHW Team Making Signs
I will miss office days like these with my colleagues Khadija and Mandy!



Improvements and Challenges

I was fortunate enough to work on this project and learn about the causes of homelessness; however, there are many people who still don’t fully understand. I think that this is one of the project’s biggest challenges: challenging peoples’ misconceptions about the factors that cause homelessness and indifference to the issue. Sadly, many people still operate on the misconception that homelessness is the result of laziness and affects all people equally.

So, while we did a lot of great work this year, something that I wish is that we did more to educate people about the social, political and institutional factors that cause homelessness and to open up a dialogue about this issue.

My Next Steps

In less than a week, I will be graduating with a B.A. in Strategic Communications and my goal is to eventually work for a PR agency with a nonprofit/social impact client. This choice of industry was entirely influenced by my work on the project. After learning so much about youth and family homelessness, I realized how important it is for me to work on something that I am passionate about. I realized that for me, helping people comes first and money comes second and I am so glad that I had the chance to experience work in the nonprofit sector.

Advice to Future Project Assistants

While I am sad to leave my role as a project assistant, I am also so excited to see the work of next year’s team and I have all the confidence in the world that it will be amazing. My main piece of advice to future project assistants is that you get what you give so, give it your all. This project is what you make of it so, the more effort you put in and the more passion you have, the greater it will be.




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