Browser warning

Sophomore Unplugs in Six-Week Poverty Immersion

Published: September 13, 2016
Carly Capra ’19, of Philadelphia, said she didn’t think about homelessness until she came to college and met friends who were involved. Now she has a heart for the poor.
Carly Capra ’19, of Philadelphia, said she didn’t think about homelessness until she came to college and met friends who were involved. Now she has a heart for the poor.

Last semester, Carly Capra ’19 spent every Friday posting to the social application Yik Yak, asking if anyone wanted to join her for pizza. She’d end up with eight to 15 students, and rain or shine, they’d take the pizza downtown and find homeless people with whom to share the meal.

“It’s not about the food — the food is an excuse to have a conversation,” said Capra, who also joined two other church ministries on Thursdays and Saturdays serving meals as well. “Feeding them is a temporary fix.”

Capra, of Philadelphia, said she didn’t think about homelessness until she came to college and met friends who were involved. Now she has a heart for the poor.

“Everyone isn’t on drugs. Not everyone is an alcoholic,” said Capra, who intends to continue the Friday gatherings this semester. “They are just struggling. More of them are sober and just struggling.”

To truly immerse herself, Capra spent six weeks this summer living in communal housing, detached from all technology and learning about social justice.

“The point is to humble yourself and be aware,” Capra said. “I pretty much dropped off the face of the planet for six weeks, even though I was here in Tampa.”

Capra was one of four UT students (the other three were Elizabeth Virgl ’16, Essence Hepburn ’17 and Creed Smith ’17) and six others in the Tampa Urban Project, a program of Intervarsity Fellowship and Tampa Underground. The group lived in a minimalistic house on $3 a day, pooling their money for groceries and emulating the communal living culture of the poor.

“The poor are treated with such contempt that oftentimes they feel less than human. From the avoidance of eye contact, withholding of medical treatment by doctors and limited protection by authorities such as police officers, the poor can feel invisible,” Capra said. “But when you actually take the time to build a friendship with those who have less, you may be surprised with all the ways in which they actually have more. More character, more kindness and more love than you have ever seen in a person before.”

During the day Capra interned at the Well, a nonprofit based in Ybor City that offers a place for people to rest, shower, fix their bicycles, eat, find other services and, most importantly, build relationships. At night, she was enrolled in an urban theology course “that explored social injustice, racism and poverty in the United States and God's heart for the poor,” she said. “This course opened my eyes to the struggle of ethnic minorities in the states and the systems in place that are perpetuating poverty.”

Capra, an international business/marketing major, has a career goal of establishing a nonprofit. She considered being a part of Tampa Underground as part of her training.

“I’ve never had to live simply,” Capra said. “I can’t successfully run a nonprofit without fully understanding people in poverty.”

Capra said she’ll continue to work on homelessness and poverty in Tampa Bay and spread the message to her friends and classmates in the variety of organizations she is a part of — as the Live Well UT student wellness coordinator, a President’s Leadership Fellow and her involvement with the Leadership Exchange, among other things.

“Building intentional relationships with those who are different from yourself is so crucial to addressing social injustice,” she said. “It is easy to remain in a bubble of people who look, sound and act like you do. But having diverse relationships teaches you the beauty in differences and ultimately the beauty in the world around you.”


Have a story idea? Contact Jamie Pilarczyk, Web Writer
Sign up for UT Web Alerts