Have a conversation with Alex Adams, and you’ll come away impressed – and likely inspired. This rising junior from Chicago has long been motivated by assisting others, particularly those in need. It’s a trait that not only defines her; it guides much of what she does. Recently, that moral compass prompted Adams to examine the issue of homelessness in Charleston. The upshot? She’s started a CofC chapter of The Backpack Project (TBP).  

Adams, a double major (public health and international studies) in the Honors College, was excited when she learned about this organization, established only a few years ago by students at the University of Georgia.   

“When I first arrived at the College,” she recalls, “I looked into a number of different options for getting involved in volunteer work. It seemed that everyone I knew on campus had encountered someone experiencing homelessness. It was an issue that just kept coming up in my life. That’s when friends of mine mentioned The Backpack Project. I was curious but unsure. After doing some research, I realized that it’s a new and growing nonprofit that is having success in helping to address homelessness on a local level. I also learned that it’s really well-organized and backed by big corporate sponsors, including State Farm and Mercedes-Benz.”   

The TBP model involves student volunteers raising money and working with sponsors and suppliers to stuff backpacks full of daily essentials for people experiencing homelessness. The backpacks customarily contain toiletries, nonperishable food items and clothing that the students hand out once or twice a semester.

“The backpacks are really just a starting point,” she explains. “They’re a way to initiate conversations and build relationships with people experiencing homelessness in the community. After that, you can begin figuring out the best ways to really help them. Homelessness in Charleston may not be as pervasive as it is in other places, but that only means we have the potential to make a more noticeable impact.” 

Throughout the past fall and much of the spring semester, Adams and her TBP cohort at the College spent time making plans and organizing their chapter of about 40 students. She also established relationships with area businesses, homeless shelters and other resources in the community to deliver the first backpacks this fall. 

“It’s really exciting to see how others are responding to our plans,” she says, noting that the staff at the homeless shelters she’s connected with are “excited and grateful to know that we’re doing this. For me, it’s fulfilling to know that we’ll be able to impact the lives of some people and do our best to make homelessness temporary for them.” 

The experience has had an impact on Adams, too.

“In the short amount of time that I’ve been in this community, I’ve met some amazing people, and I’ve realized that you’ll never have the opportunity to interact with them and be able to help them if you’re not first willing to put yourself in a potentially uncomfortable situation. It will always be rewarding. It’s definitely been rewarding for me.”