Story by Kimberly Hsueh
Photo by Katelyn Hernandez
Senior Sarah Zenas slowly climbed onto the diving board and waited for the whistle to blow. Muscles aching and out of breath, she wanted to climb back down. Instead, she waited in position and recalled her experience with the people living on Skid Row: homeless children endured a lifelong journey of hardships and still grinned with positivity and the hopes of moving forward. With this in mind, Zenas looked up, smiled, and dove in.
“At swim, when I’m having a rough time and I can’t keep swimming, I remember that people are going through so much more than I am, especially the mothers on Skid Row. These mothers don’t have time to wallow, because they have children to care for. They have so much to worry about but they do it and they’re okay. So, this has taught me that you can always keep going even when things are hard.”
Thousands of homeless people live on the crowded, impoverished streets of Skid Row, a neighborhood of tents occupying 50 blocks in Downtown Los Angeles. When Zenas and her family drove past the area, she had her firsthand experience of the scene. Bewildered by the number of people lingering on the streets, she felt helpless and an overwhelming feeling to learn about their stories and needs.
Once she entered high school, she attained her dream through her sister’s Feel Full Club. In 2016, Feel Full tackled its goal of ending homelessness by collaborating with the Chilo Foundation, an outreach charity dedicated to “pause for those in need.” Zenas actively participated in their service events, seeking to bring hope to the areas of Skid Row, darkened by society’s backlash and ignorance of homelessness, with a welcoming attitude.
As one of the officers of the Feel Full Club, Zenas wanted to bring the South Pasadena community to Skid Row. She passionately believed that exposing students to the true situation that homeless individuals faced could refute the stereotypes of the people living on streets as well as spark compassion, selflessness, generosity, and action amongst her peers at school.
Feel Full allows students to discover the beauty of volunteering, and share stories while serving food or donating necessities. The homeless people are able to receive the resources they need, such as menstrual products. But, Zenas didn’t stop here. She also brought her samaritan acts to school, collaborating with the health department to provide pads in the girls’ bathroom.
“I really wanted other people to experience [volunteering]. So, [my officers and I] were able to expand [the club] a lot, and more students began participating,” Zenas said. “At Skid Row, talking to the homeless and seeking what it’s like to not have access, made [hygiene products] way more important to me now. Now every year, we do a menstrual care product drive, for them and the students at our school.”
Volunteering has been much more than just a way to earn community service hours to Zenas. For her, it has been a way to bond with other people and learn about their experiences, connect with different communities, and take the first steps to end homelessness in LA.