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Dublin Experience Connects Senior with Irish Homeless

Published: September 11, 2015
While researching the issue of homelessness in Dublin, Griffin Giunta did one-on-one interviews with the homeless people he would come across, including this street artist.
While researching the issue of homelessness in Dublin, Griffin Giunta did one-on-one interviews with the homeless people he would come across, including this street artist.
In high school, Griffin Guinta ’16 had to do 100 service hours as part of the Florida Bright Futures Scholarship Program requirements. He was assigned to a homeless shelter and immediately felt a connection.

“I fell in love with helping people who can’t help themselves,” said Guinta, of Bradenton, FL. “But the more I became educated, the more I realized it wasn’t about me feeling good. It was more about creating sustainable change.”

So when Guinta was named this year’s recipient of the Timothy M. Smith Inspiration Through Exploration Award , he headed to Ireland to research the issue of homelessness in Dublin.

The Timothy M. Smith Inspiration Through Exploration Award is an annual grant given to stimulate international travel and writing among Honors Program students. The award was established to honor the life of Smith, a lawyer by trade, whose true passion was traveling the world.

Past recipients have taught English and cared for elephants in Sri Lanka, studied mixed-ability dance concepts in England, learned about dolphin-assisted therapy in Turkey, volunteered with a nonprofit providing free cleft surgery to children in Ghana and worked with researchers from the Pacific Whale Foundation in Australia.

Guinta made a few connections with nonprofits and churches in Dublin before he left the states in early August. While he was met with some skepticism by many, he was embraced by Focus Ireland and his host family, who helped steer him in the right direction. After a frustrating start, Guinta decided to just approach the homeless people he came across and do one-on-one interviews in exchange for a meal.

“The hardest part was trying to connect with people, and the first couple days I felt like I was failing my assignment,” he said.

“First Griffin had to get Dubliners to set aside their stereotypes about Americans abroad, in order to enlist their support for his project of recording life stories from Dublin’s homeless population,” said Professor Gary Luter, director of UT’s Honors Program. “Griffin succeeded, and Dublin’s change agents accepted and aided him in his project. “

The interviews proved powerful and gave him insight to the issue from the view of the homeless who are impacted and how they are treated. He outlined some of those interviews on his blog .

“A lot of people have a stereotypical view of the homeless, but in Ireland, if you met them the homeless just blend into society,” Guinta said.

He hopes to continue his research in Tampa, comparing the issue and attitudes around homelessness in the two cities.

Guinta, a writing major and editor of the Minaret, also spent this summer teaching English literature and creative writing at the Duke TIP camp at Trinity University. After graduation in the spring, he is considering graduate school and perhaps a career in education as a teacher or professor. His first-person account will appear in the Sept. 17 edition of the Minaret .

“Experiences abroad have a two-pronged effect; our students learn about a new land and a new culture, and the people of that culture learn about us,” said Luter. “Maya Angelo wrote, ‘Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends.’ That’s what Griffin learned and taught others.”