Common Challenge fosters understanding of homelessness

By Shane Donglasan

AmeriCorps VISTA Volunteer Coordinator Jada McNeill speaks to students during the Common Challenge Adventure.
AmeriCorps VISTA Volunteer Coordinator Jada McNeill speaks to students during the Common Challenge Adventure.

The Common Challenge is an opportunity for incoming students to make an impact in the Sarasota community. The focus of this year’s Common Challenge was homelessness and housing insecurity.

Throughout Orientation Week, new students participated in discussions and activities to help them gain a better understanding of homelessness in the local community.

At the end of the week, students took part in the Common Challenge Adventure, a simulated experience designed to help participants understand what it might be like to live as a low-income individual on a daily basis.

Each student was given an identity, such as single parent, person of color, or military veteran. The simulation walked them through the tough choices they needed to make in order to survive for a month.

Volunteers were stationed at tables that represented community resources and services including a college, employer, pawn shop, payday loan officer, health clinic, and grocery store.

Participants also experienced unexpected hardships like health outbreaks and hurricanes. If they couldn’t afford any fines, they were forced to spend time in jail.

After the simulation, the group gathered to discuss the experience and challenges they faced.

“I felt like my whole life was just focused on basic needs,” said first-year student Kali-Ray Skinner. “If this was someone’s long-term life, it would be so shattering because they never get a break to focus and take care of themselves.”

AmeriCorps VISTA Volunteer Coordinator Jada McNeill helped organize the simulation and said she hoped the activity made an impact on how the students think about the different perspectives and complex barriers facing low-income and housing insecure families.

The Office of Student Activities and Campus Engagement will be planning Common Challenge volunteer opportunities throughout the fall semester with organizations that work with the homeless and housing insecure.

“You can also be proactive and share your ideas with us,” McNeill shared with students. “We can help you with a community service idea. It could inspire an ISP or thesis or inspire a new passion that you haven’t discovered.”

– Shane Donglasan is the marketing writer/project coordinator at New College of Florida.

Read more about Orientation:


Located in Sarasota, New College of Florida has educated intellectually curious students for lives of great achievement since its founding in 1960. As the State of Florida’s designated honors college, New College provides an exceptional education that transforms students’ intellectual curiosity into personal accomplishment. The 110-acre campus on Sarasota Bay is home to more than 800 students and 80 full-time faculty engaged in interdisciplinary research and collaborative learning. New College offers nearly 40 areas of concentration for undergraduates and a master’s degree program in Data Science.

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