Published on October 6th, 2023 | by Dr. Jerry Doby0
Griffin Kapelus – Searching for Meaning and Making a Difference
In a world often clouded by cynicism, stories of young individuals making a real difference in society bring a refreshing sense of hope. Griffin Kapelus, a student at the University of Vermont, is one such inspiring figure dedicated to addressing homelessness and food insecurity in Burlington, Vermont. Although his upbringing in Manhattan’s Upper West Side provided a comfortable life, Griffin’s parents instilled in him a strong sense of social responsibility from a young age.
Early Lessons in Compassion
Growing up as the youngest of three siblings in a well-off Manhattan family, Griffin Kapelus enjoyed the privileges of his upbringing. Yet, his parents ensured he never took these privileges for granted. His mother’s work at the Goddard Riverside Community Center, offering free tutoring to underprivileged children, had a profound impact on Griffin’s outlook.
During his childhood, Griffin often accompanied his mother to the community center, where he witnessed the transformative power of community work. These experiences left a lasting impression, nurturing his desire to contribute meaningfully to society.
An Academic Path with Purpose
Griffin Kapelus discovered his passion for global studies and politics during his high school years. Guided by dedicated educators, he immersed himself in these subjects, laying the foundation for his future endeavors. After high school, he worked as a busboy and waiter while continuing to educate himself about politics and international relations through sources like the New York Times.
Griffin’s academic journey led him to Hunter College, where he pursued part-time studies while working as a dog walker. His research interests gravitated towards urban issues and inequality, culminating in a significant paper on gentrification and displacement in Harlem.
A Pandemic Sparks Action
When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, Griffin Kapelus felt a profound urge to go beyond academics. His upbringing and experiences had primed him for a life of social responsibility. He began volunteering at the West Side Campaign Against Hunger, a New York City food pantry. Initially tasked with simple chores like moving boxes and packing bags, Griffin’s role evolved as he spent more time interacting with visitors to the pantry.
The personal stories he encountered deeply affected Griffin. Many of these individuals had faced food insecurity for extended periods or were grappling with financial challenges exacerbated by the pandemic. Volunteering became a life-altering experience for him, reinforcing his commitment to being part of the solution.
Dedication to the Cause
Upon moving to Burlington, Vermont, to attend the University of Vermont in person, Griffin continued his mission by volunteering at Feeding Chittenden, an organization dedicated to addressing food insecurity in Chittenden County. Initially established as a small pantry program in 1974, Feeding Chittenden has since expanded to serve over 12,000 people annually.
In addition to his volunteer work, Griffin also took on a role at a local homeless shelter. This marked his first experience as a paid employee in a social work organization, providing him with valuable insights into the complex web of issues associated with homelessness and poverty.
In a recent interview, Griffin Kapelus was asked how his work had influenced his worldview. He responded, “Cleaning rooms, doing laundry, and washing dishes are not always satisfying, but recognizing that performing these tasks allows the shelter to function properly provides otherwise benign tasks with a deeper meaning.” This perspective exemplifies his unwavering dedication to the cause.
A Rising Tide of Altruism
Griffin Kapelus is not alone in his commitment to social change. Across the nation, young people like him are actively engaged in efforts to build a brighter future. According to a study by the Corporation for National and Community Service, 55% of young people between the ages of 12 and 19 volunteer each year, nearly double the rate of adult volunteerism at 29%.
The COVID-19 crisis exposed the vulnerabilities of America’s most disadvantaged populations. Access to healthcare, vaccinations, and basic health precautions became luxuries for many. Even before the pandemic, homelessness was a pressing issue, with 580,466 individuals experiencing homelessness in January 2020. These challenges prompted young individuals like Griffin Kapelus to step up and make a difference.
Challenging Misconceptions About Homelessness
Griffin Kapelus also took the time to dispel common misconceptions about homelessness during his interview. He highlighted that homelessness is not a static state but often a temporary situation. Many people find themselves without shelter due to job loss, mental health challenges, or other unforeseen circumstances. Griffin emphasized that homelessness is cyclical, with individuals moving in and out of homelessness based on their circumstances.
Inspirations Along the Way
Furthermore, Griffin Kapelus draws inspiration from diverse sources, including athlete activists like Marcus Rashford, who plays for Manchester City’s chief rival, Manchester United. Despite this rivalry, Rashford leveraged his platform to champion the provision of school lunches to children during the pandemic, even personally funding meals when the government’s response lagged. Griffin finds Rashford’s dedication to social justice resonant, demonstrating the influence of prominent figures in effecting positive change.
Ultimately, Griffin Kapelus’s story illustrates how young individuals can positively influence their communities and society. It showcases the ongoing commitment to altruism and social responsibility among the younger generation, providing optimism for a future where meaningful change is attainable through collective efforts and steadfast dedication.