MOUNT LAUREL >> Imagine using your writing background and unique voice to bring recognition to an often-ignored sect of our population.
That’s exactly what former Rowan College at Burlington County (RCBC) journalism student, Lauren Purnell, set out to do when she formed her blog, namingthehomeless.com. Little did she know, her efforts would eventually be chronicled by several regional outlets and would attract more than $1,000 in donations.
Purnell formed the idea for her blog with a mission to destroy the negative connotation that trails the word “homeless” by meeting a new homeless individual every other week or so to share his or her story. Inspired by her journalism instructor, Tim Zatzariny, Purnell sought to begin a blog in 2017 that she has continued while attending Rowan University. She chose to venture to Philadelphia (a city with one of the highest poverty ratings in the nation), equipped with care packages, to put human stories to the faces that often go unnoticed.
“I wanted to write about something a lot more meaningful than my life that would connect with others and raise awareness of individuals who are homeless,” Purnell said. “I am so grateful for the support Naming the Homeless has received and hope to continue building upon it as long as there are people who help, compassion and connection with society.”
Purnell’s efforts earned her an internship with the Burlington County Times last summer, which she plans to continue this year.
Purnell received the college’s Civility Award in recognition of her effort to tear down unfavorable connotations for the term “homeless.” The Civility Award honors a graduating student who has promoted tolerance in their community and made positive contributions in a diverse population.
“Many Civility Award recipients have gone on to do amazing things in their community, although few, if any, have made the type of impact that Lauren has before they have graduated,” said Dr. Jonathan Alexander, associate professor of English and Holocaust Studies, and founding director of the award. “Instead of looking the other way when encountering people who have experienced hard times, Lauren’s compassion pulls her toward them with a helpful hand and an attentive ear.”
At just 21 years old, Purnell, of Florence, is continuing her journalism studies at Rowan University. She anticipates spending more time on campus at Rowan’s office of volunteerism. She also aspires to start a volunteer-based project for either homelessness in this area or something that may benefit Naming the Homeless, such as collecting items and preparing care packages to be distributed. As if she wasn’t already busy enough, Purnell also volunteers at Doing Our Part Eclectically (D.O.P.E.), which hosts serving events every two weeks in Center City and feeds about 200 people in need per serving.