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Sociology professor extends education beyond four walls

Each semester students are involved in projects that serve the less fortunate

November 25, 2012|By MARIE GILBERT | marieg@herald-mail.com
  • HCC student Mariah Truax serves sweet potato and pumpkin pie to those gathered for a Thanksgiving meal at the Salvation Army on Wednesday.
By Ric Dugan/Staff Photographer

When sociology students at Hagerstown Community College first walk through the doors of Daniel Madron’s classroom, they quickly learn their education will extend beyond four walls.

Lessons will be learned at The Salvation Army and REACH Cold Weather Shelter, both in Hagerstown.

They’ll shop for groceries at local supermarkets, then prepare and serve that food to people who, on a daily basis, don’t have access to a decent meal.

Hungry minds will feed hungry stomachs.

And along the way, these students will receive a cold dose of reality.

Food insecurity isn’t something that happens on the other side of the world. It’s visible in their own community. They only have to open their eyes to see it.

That’s why each semester, Madron involves his students in projects that serve the less fortunate.

They have collected about 500 pounds of canned food that was donated to the Community Action Council, and  volunteered at the annual Convoy of Hope and at The Salvation Army toy giveaway. And they have prepared and served Thanksgiving meals to individuals and families struggling to put food on their tables.

When Madron arrived at HCC a little more than two years ago, the sociology instructor brought with him the desire to help others.

It’s part of who he is, he will tell you. He can’t ignore that segment of the population that feels isolated because of poverty.

Born and raised in Conowingo, Md., in Cecil County, Madron attended Eastern University outside of Philadelphia for his undergraduate education. He went to the University of Maryland Baltimore County for graduate studies and earned his master of arts degree in applied sociology in 2007. He expects to complete his Ph.D. in public policy in December.

Madron worked as an adjunct instructor at Howard Community College and UMBC before taking the full-time position in Hagerstown.

At almost every juncture of his education and work life, Madron has dedicated himself to helping the less fortunate.

“In undergrad, I organized projects that helped the homeless of Philly,” he said. “When I started teaching at Howard Community College, I decided to get my students involved in projects that would help the homeless of Baltimore City.”

He has continued those outreach efforts in Hagerstown, providing his sociology students with a glimpse of a way of life many of them never knew existed.


Two reasons why

The reasons, Madron said, are twofold.

“First, there is a sociological significance to exposing students to reality. We can break down stereotypes,” he said. “Second, I hope that when these students leave college and get jobs, they will remember the people in need and continue to give back.”

Personally, Madron said there are several driving reasons behind his own desire to help others.

Mostly, it’s children.

About a quarter of the homeless population is made up of children, Madron said. By providing meals, clothes, presents, even something as simple as an Easter egg hunt, “my hope is that these children will see that others care about them and that they can experience some normalcy while they are homeless.”

Madron has never experienced homelessness, “and I can’t even imagine how a child in school could perform adequately while dealing with the issues associated with being homeless,” he said. “So if I am not getting help, I feel that I should be giving it. This is a life principle that has become a big part of my life.”

Regardless of where Madron has lived or worked, there has been a population that faces each day with unthinkable challenges, he said.

In more urban areas, homelessness appears to be more of a problem because it’s more visible. People are living on the streets, he said.

“In Washington County, the homeless are living in the woods, in their cars, in shelters and other places that I’m probably not aware of. It is not as visible, but it certainly exists,” he said.


Eye-opening projects

Because hunger often is hidden, outreach projects can be eye-openers for Madron’s students.

For instance, each year, his students prepare and serve Thanksgiving dinner at The Salvation Army in Hagerstown.

“When 300 people show up to get food the day before Thanksgiving, students are shocked to see this many people in need,” he said.

That’s why he encourages their involvement.

It’s a chance to experience sociology in the real world, he said.

Since arriving in Hagerstown, Madron has had the opportunity to meet and talk with those who don’t know when they will eat their next meal.

“Two Thanksgivings ago, I was contacted by a local soup kitchen-type organization and was asked if I could provide Thanksgiving dinner to two households that couldn’t make it out,” he said. “So my fiancee and I made dinners at my house and then we took them to their homes. The first was a low-income family and the father had recently lost his job. Also, his wife was disabled and they were struggling. The other household consisted of an elderly woman.”

They are typical of the people who struggle every day in this community, he said — “people who struggle to get healthy and nutritious food.”

None of them would choose this sort of life. Instead, he said, “most have had some kind of bad luck that has put them in their current position.”


Feeding the hungry

Madron’s sociology students recently served dinner at the REACH Cold Weather Shelter. And, as they have in the past, on Wednesday they served Thanksgiving dinner at The Salvation Army.

“The day before Thanksgiving is our tradition,” he said. “We will have about 50 students involved. We had about 10 involved in the REACH project and about 90 involved in a canned food drive.”

Madron said his students talk about the projects at the beginning of the semester. They then go to grocery stores, restaurants and various businesses asking for donations.

“Even in a struggling economy, people have been extremely generous over the last 2 1/2 years,” he said.

“But none of this would be possible without the help of students and those in the community who give to these projects,” Madron said. “I’m just the organizer. They are the soldiers.”

According to Madron, there are many ways people can help to improve the hunger situation in their own community.

”Obviously, donating goods, money and time to organizations that help the needy is important,” he said. “However, most of that help is temporary. We need to change our minds and our hearts. We need to think about the children and how we can help them with long-term change.

“We obviously can’t quit the temporary assistance because it’s necessary. But we need to make sure that policies are set in place and funding is directed appropriately so that we can create long-term change.”

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