Addressing a Hidden Problem

Physician assistant students sleep out to raise awareness on youth homelessness.
Students sleeping on the floor in Kanbar
Jefferson students raised over $13,000 for the local Covenant House.

The first of 87 physician assistant studies students began to trickle into the Kanbar Campus Center by 7 p.m. Carrying sleeping bags, pillows and blankets, the group would spend the night there to reflect on their roles as caregivers and help raise awareness and money for youth homelessness.

“It’s a hidden problem,” says Nicole Cournoyer, Jefferson PA professor and event organizer, pointing to a report that showed nearly 600 Philadelphians ages 13 to 25 were homeless and unaccompanied on one night. “Part of our program’s mission and philosophy is to help the underserved communities around the area and nationally.”

Through the July 25 sleepout and other volunteer efforts, the students raised over $13,000 for the local Covenant House—a homeless youth shelter about a mile from Jefferson’s East Falls Campus. The students used their own social media channels to spread the word about the cause.

During the night, they participated in team-building exercises and discussions about privilege, as well as heard from Covenant House leadership and two people who went through the nonprofit’s program.

“We want them to be knowledgeable about how to identify a homeless youth or human trafficking victim as they serve the community and provide those vital services,” says Robert Zindell, associate director of development for Covenant House Pennsylvania. “We want them to understand how they can provide services like we do with unconditional love and absolute respect and recognize the strengths and resiliency of those they encounter daily. We’re excited to provide this opportunity and hope they leave the program and event with a greater understanding of these issues and the impact they made by sleeping out.”

Stressing that the sleepout focused on raising awareness and not pretending to be homeless, PA class president for East Falls Campus Katelyn Weeber says the inspiring talks helped everyone gain greater empathy for those in need.

PA student and top fundraiser Sara Martino says learning about Covenant House’s mission and then experiencing the “smallest bit of sleeping out really put things into perspective,” she shares. “It made me realize how privileged we all are to have a safe, warm, dry and comfortable place to sleep every night. I’m so happy our class could raise this money. Their youth absolutely deserves it and more.”

After the students woke up around 5 a.m., Cournoyer asked the future healers to journal about their night in Kanbar.

“They will graduate in just a few weeks,” she says. “I hope they can take something from this event and use it toward the care they will provide over their career—no matter what community they serve.”

Area news crews visited Jefferson for the physician assistant sleepout event. Watch the
6ABC and CBS3 clips.

Six students sit around a table playing cards.
Almost 90 physician assistant students participated in the sleepout at Kanbar.
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