BU student-athlete gives hope to the homeless | Lifestyles


BLUEFIELD, VA — After a semester of hard work, most students are looking forward to a well-deserved break as they return home for vacation. However, for senior BU and student-athlete Elishia Peña, the winter break meant working to help those without a home.

A native of Sweetwater, TN, Peña graduated from Midway High School and earned her associate degree from Hiwassee College. She transferred to Bluefield University and became a member of the women’s soccer team. At home, Peña played football in the Knoxville, TN area and noticed the number of homeless people in the city. As Peña grew in her relationship with God during her freshman year, she felt called to serve the homeless in her Tennessee community.

According to knoxvilletn.gov, approximately 800 people in Knoxville are homeless, with 75.6% considered protected and 24.4% unprotected. Of these, approximately 22% are chronically homeless.

“I searched all my clothes,” Peña shared. “I had three bags full, so I drove through Knoxville and found a place with a lot of homeless people.”

By distributing clothes, she had the opportunity to hear the stories of others. “One man was a veteran,” Peña shared. “When he came back, he had no family, no friends, no place to live. He suffered from PTSD and it was difficult for him to find a job, especially without clean clothes or a place to shower.

The stories of these individuals touched Peña. “After I did that the first time, I went to my car and cried,” Peña said. “I realized how much God has blessed me in my life and how often I take things for granted like a bed, a toothbrush, clothes or even socks.”

Peña then saved every penny of her labor to buy supplies to make care bags with socks, toothbrushes, toothpaste, hair care, and more. “When I gave them to people, I would smile and say, ‘God loves you’ or ‘I hope this helps. I also had the opportunity to see how they lived. Most of them lived in tents below decks, while others had straps tied together for shelter. I prayed that I could help and have more impact.

Peña decided to create a Facebook group called “Faith for the Future”. “I posted some things I’ve done recently and people got interested. I then started getting donations for supplies and was surprised at how many people were interested in helping out.”

Along with his mother, cousin, and several donors, Peña collected hygiene products, clothing, medicine, 120 blankets, and spent 8 hours making 200 muffins to distribute at their next drop-off.

“There was a man on that trip who asked why we were doing this,” Peña said. “I told him it was all because of God, and that he had sent me there to help. Through his compassion for others, Peña exemplifies BU’s mission of servant leadership. As Robert K. Greenleaf has defined it, “Servant leadership is being a servant first, letting a natural sense of serving others come first, and then a conscious choice that leads to an aspiration to lead. This manifests in the servant leader ensuring that the highest needs of others are met.

“It shows the kindness in her heart for others,” said BU women’s football head coach Katie Morton. “In a season when it’s so easy to think about ourselves or find the perfect gift, she stepped out and responded to the needs of members of her community.”

Peña plans to take more trips soon and is accepting donations of clothes and money. If you’re interested in helping on this journey, follow the Faith for the Future Facebook page for more information.

Peña will be graduating with her Bachelor of Science in Psychology and Human Services this spring and plans to work with child protective services.

She hopes to continue to grow her organization to give hope and share faith with those in need.

“My definition of a servant leader is someone who is selfless,” Peña said. “Someone who wants to help others and make a difference, not for their own satisfaction, but only does it because it’s the right thing to do.”


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