Labor Day is my favorite holiday.

That’s when 20 college journalists spend the weekend in a South Florida homeless shelter. They take over the shelter’s newspaper and publish an entire issue in 36 hours. They also build a website from scratch. It’s called Will Write For Food.

Over the past four years, those students have been lied to, yelled at, propositioned, and trapped in an elevator. They haven’t flinched as sources told them about the taste of a feces sandwich, showed them a hernia the size of a watermelon, and masturbated in front or them
(“I just maintained eye contact”).

My favorite and worst memory is from Labor Day weekend 2010…

When a terminally ill shelter resident repeatedly called her a “creep,” “drunk,” and “fucking whore,” Ashley Hemmy stoically sat by his mattress (which was in a hallway) for hours, until he softened up enough to chat about his love of bologna and Dick Tracy. “He said he really enjoyed talking to me,” Ashley proudly and humbly told me.

Nine days later, the man died.

Here are some random memories that stuck with me this weekend…

…writing my phone number on the upper arm of Christopher Whitten, so if he got busted while posing as a homeless man, I could bond him out. Or so he thought. My limited grant money doesn’t include a line item for “bail.” Thankfully, he didn’t get arrested.

…admiring Chealsea Boozer for tackling WWFF12’s most gut-wrenching story: violence against the homeless. After she met Robert Cassito, whose head was caved in by a 20-pound ax three years ago, she seemed a little shaken. Even more so when she learned who did it: “His friend, also homeless and living on the street at the time, was jealous that Cassito had money.”

…admiring Jane McInnis for spending hours as a homeless street vendor and getting cooked under the South Florida sun. Upon returning to the newsroom, she yelled at me, “If I get skin cancer in five years, I’m gonna sue you!” She was joking, of course. At least, I hope she was joking. My limited grant money also doesn’t include a line item for “lawsuits.” (McInnis made nearly $10, good for about 10 seconds with a board-certified dermatologist.)

…laughing at this irony: Students took it in stride when the toilet backed up in our makeshift newsroom, which was a narrow anteroom (or wide hallway, depending how you look at it) with a leaky roof and a sloping wood floor with nails sticking out of it – but they bitched incessantly whenever the wi-fi failed, which was often. Who realistically expects a homeless shelter to have reliable wireless? Or any at all?

…reading in horror Veronica Figueroa‘s blog post titled, AND THEN I FARTED. It’s an amusing anecdote from a shelter resident. But the two photos right under the headline feature me. So not only does it appear I farted while hovering over Veronica, but if you Google “Koretzky farted,” this is the top result.

…buying an alarm clock for Joshua Santos at 2:14 a.m. at the CVS down the street from the shelter. Then watching him destroy the alarm clock for one photo. My limited grant money also doesn’t include a line item for “breaking shit you just bought.”

…working through the night and shutting down WWFF12 at 7 a.m. yesterday with art director Fiji Blaize, photo/video shooter Cayla Nimmo, editor Loan Le, and design adviser Mariam Aldhahi – then driving Loan straight to the airport so she could fly back home to work on her school newspaper, where she’s the executive editor.

If this sounds like fun – and it doesn’t to most college journalists – join us next year. Since we never get more than 60 applicants for 20 slots, your odds are reasonable. (Whenever I pitch Will Write For Food to students, the reaction is usually along the lines of this actual quote: “Why the hell would I want to do THAT?”)

Click here for more details. See you next year. But probably not.

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