Isabelle ’19 Forges Connections, Practices Compassion in Disparate Communities
by St. Andrew's Communications Staff
Before they graduate from St. Andrew’s, seniors spend three weeks volunteering with various non-profit organizations throughout the Washington, D.C., region. Isabelle Russell, who has spent much of her three years at St. Andrew’s tackling food insecurity with the Campus Kitchen Project and Hearts for Haiti, took on a new challenge at the Isaiah House, a day center run by Washington, D.C.-based So Others Might Eat (SOME).
“I’ve worked in a soup kitchen before, but I’ve never done hands-on outreach with people that are homeless and have mental health differences,” Isabelle said. “This has been really amazing, being able to learn about these individuals but also gaining a further understanding of homelessness.”
At Isaiah House, Isabelle participated in all of the daily routines, from welcoming guests at the front desk to serving meals. She said she came home every day with a different experience and a different lesson learned from each person she met.
“Everyone has their own struggles, even if you can’t see them. It’s important to be compassionate and understanding regardless of how you’re feeling that day,” Isabelle said. “Homelessness isn’t a typical stereotype you see. It’s a much broader, more complex spectrum. Every single person I’ve met (at Isaiah House) is a decent, kind human being and they deserve to feel that way as well.”
Forging connections with the people she serves is nothing new to Isabelle – as a Haiti Ambassador, Isabelle got to know the Haitians who were impacted by her work with the Hearts for Haiti club by speaking with them in Creole. Before she came to St. Andrew’s, she lived in Venezuela and Brazil, where she volunteered with her family in their adopted communities.
At St. Andrew’s, Isabelle said she’s learned how to give back in a sustainable way, particularly through her International Development class.
“In a lot of the classes I’ve had at St. Andrew’s, there’s a lot of critical thinking about why this is happening and what are the underlying causes of homelessness or food insecurity,” she said. “We’re not just asking those questions; the International Development class was critical in helping me and my classmates understand what are productive ways to improve that issue on a small scale while also empowering the people (who are impacted) to be a part of that solution.”
Isabelle, who is a member of the Cum Laude Society and an SGA officer, will attend Occidental College in the fall, where she plans to study diplomacy, world affairs and public health. She said she was drawn to the school’s commitment to social justice as well as opportunities in Los Angeles to volunteer and intern.
“Making each person feel connected in some way, even though we have different living circumstances or different languages, and finding that common ground is really important, and I think St. Andrew’s has helped me learn how to do that and be more confident doing that in a respectful manner,” Isabelle said.