Writing class bands together to help the homeless

For the last eight years, Mark Marino, an associate professor of writing, has successfully incorporated service in his course curriculum. This semester, his WRIT 340 course, “Advanced Writing for Social Sciences,” will be building an urban garden for a homeless shelter called Pathways to Home.

“I started using service projects in 2008, when one of my summer classes created a website called SOS Classroom to help counteract LAUSD’s decision to cancel summer school,” Marino said in an email to the Daily Trojan. “I was inspired by the model of [fellow WRIT 340 professors] John Murray and Stephanie Bower, who teach a service learning writing course that involves creating video profiles of and with area nonprofits.”

Juhee Shah, a junior majoring in policy, planning and development, is one of the students in Marino’s class this semester and discussed how the class collectively came to the conclusion to tackle homelessness.

“In addition to our papers, we had to write wall posts on topics we are passionate about,” Shah said. “Eventually, our class compiled all the different causes, and the one we were unanimously interested in was the homeless population.”

According to Shah, the class was inspired by Ted Talk speaker Ron Finley to create the garden.

“Ron Finley is a ‘guerilla gardener’ who plants vegetable gardens in South Central L.A.,” Shah said. “He has grown a nourishing food culture by planting the seeds and tools for healthy eating, and we wanted to follow his lead.”

The class has already started making preparations for the service project, and the tentative date to visit the shelter and begin planting is April 19.

Sareen Palassian, a senior double majoring in international relations and French and a copy editor for the Daily Trojan, is in charge of researching plants and figuring out the best crops to grow in the garden.

“Basically, our professor lets us pick our own role so we can each take ownership of the project,” Palassian said. “My job is to research plants and put together an ultimate caretaking guidebook for those at the shelter.”

Palassian explained that she tried to select plants that don’t take up too much water.

“Most vegetables require a lot of water in general, but we wanted to be as compatible as possible for an urban environment like L.A. that doesn’t necessarily have many resources,” Palassian said. “We ended up choosing late spring and early summer crops such as green beans, bell peppers and squash.”

Palassian and her class have already started the urban farming process by planting the seeds in small egg cartons so they can sprout.

“When it’s time to go to Pathways to Home, we’ll take the seedlings out and move them into a large planter,” Palassian said. “We want this to be a sustainable project so that after we leave, others can come in and continue the process.”

Both Shah and Palassian have appreciated the element of service in their WRIT 340 class this semester. Shah appreciated how the project has brought the class closer together.

“As a class, it has brought us closer together,” Shah said. “We all know each other quite well now, and that doesn’t happen a lot in [General Education] courses.”

On the other hand, Palassian is happy that the class is doing something to contribute to the surrounding community.

“This is the first time I’ve done something off campus with a class, which is pretty necessary when you go to a school like USC,” Palassian said. “We have a reputation for being closed off and isolated within L.A., so I think it’s great that we are getting more in touch with the outside community.”