Support staff, such as custodial and food service employees, at Texas A&M take a part in a student’s everyday life. From cleaning up classrooms to cooking your favorite campus food to maintaining the campus grounds, these employees are a constant force on campus. But issues like homelessness and financial instability can often be hidden behind their smile or ‘my pleasure.’
An Aggie-led organization, The REACH Project, aims to help A&M support staff with the like poverty and homelessness — issues that are common due to the lack of affordable housing. The REACH Project, which began operation in March, is a non-profit organization that helps university support staff who struggle with the financial instability that can stem from the lack of affordable housing in the Bryan-College Station area.
“We hope to enhance life experiences by providing health resources, education practices like GED attainment and fiscal responsibility and other immersive education and learning practices that can help someone end the cycle of poverty,” Co-Founder and CFO Garrett Littlejohn said.
Littlejohn, Class of 2019, and Co-Founder and CEO Max Gerall Class of 2018, began this journey as current students when they connected with a food service employee named Melissa Martinez.
“After going to A&M and spending a lot of time in Sbisa, we met Ms. Melissa, the cashier lady at the front desk,” Gerall said. “After about three or four years, we became pretty good friends and I started to hear stories about her life, family and some of the trials and tribulations that they were going through and that’s kind of where it all started.”
Gerall said that although they initially started REACH to help Martinez, they have been able to help many others through initiatives like hosting on campus health clinics for support staff and design competitions where students innovate affordable housing.
“It really started initially with Ms. Melissa and the story of needing to find affordable housing,” Gerall said. “[But], it led to us learning there was a lot more that we could provide in education and community resources.”
After witnessing first hand the struggles that A&M support staff experience, Martinez said that she is glad that those who are struggling have been given the resources and opportunities through the REACH Project.
“I love what they are doing. I think it’s good that they are trying to help people with not only low income housing, but that they are also trying to help with educational classes and health,” Martinez said. “It’s good because the housing is expensive and some families are only able to afford to pay the rent, so they are left without cars, and other things they need.”
Although these struggles are common today, Gerall and Littlejohn are confident that their dream of providing affordable housing innovations, as well as community development resources, will come to fruition.
As the one who inspired this organization, Martinez said that she is glad that support staff have someone fighting for them and seeing the issues that they are struggling with.
“It feels good knowing that there are people out there like Max and Garrett who actually take notice of people like myself and others who struggle,” Martinez said. “It makes me happy and I’m grateful that there are people like those two out there that care about others and their well-being.”
For more information on the REACH Project and upcoming events visit them on Facebook at TexasREACHProject.