WILL WRITE FOR FOOD: How to work Labor Day in a homeless shelter

If you’re reading this, it’s because you’re thinking about doing something stupid.

You’re contemplating an uncomfortable Labor Day weekend in a South Florida homeless shelter with 20 other college journalists from across the country.

You’ll take over the nation’s second-largest homeless newspaper and assemble an entire 24-page issue in 36 hours – starting with a tasty dinner in the shelter on a Saturday night and ending with cold leftovers in the wee hours of a Monday morning. It’s called Will Write for Food, and 2015 will mark our seventh twisted year.

We’ll pay for all your meals and a no-frills hotel room you’ll share with three other WWFFers. (No, you don’t sleep in the shelter, although you’ll spend nearly all your weekend there.) We also pay for some – but not all – of your travel.

In return, you’ll receive no college credit, no internship credit, and no job interviews. And most of your friends and family will call you crazy.

Sounds appealing, doesn’t it?

Before you even think about applying for Labor Day 2015, you need to read up on what’s happened in the past…

Finally, these are some questions not fully answered in all those links…

Is this just for writers?

No, we need photogs and designers, too. And radio, TV, and multimedia geniuses. We prefer two of each, although we haven’t always been able to accomplish that.

Above are the WWFF11 co-art directors. They hailed from different states and actually hated each other in the beginning. (They’re very competitive.) Then they became fast friends. Still are. That’s happened a lot over the years.

Who the hell are you?

I’m a 49-year-old journalist who lives a couple miles from the shelter, but a world away. The shelter is on a stretch of dilapidated highway, while I live in a pleasant gated community a few blocks from the ocean.

A decade ago, I volunteered for the shelter’s newspaper, which is run entirely by the homeless and formerly homeless. The editor had a nasty Oxycodone habit, so whenever he was in rehab, I took over. The shelter’s owner would email me the stories in the morning, and I’d read them in the evenings after work. And that’s how I edited a homeless paper from home.

(I also advise a student newspaper at a large state university, and I was never quite sure what to make of this fact: Some homeless people write better than some college journalists.)

The editor has since kicked his habit, got married, had kids, and stayed clean. He became pals with Michele Boyet, who was one of the first WWFF student editors and now is the project’s coordinator. While I’m the WWFF adviser, Michele runs the show. (That’s her in the photo above, on the right.)

What kind of students are you looking for?

Those who don’t mind getting trapped in a crowded elevator. It’s happened twice. The shelter’s elevator is a real piece of crap. (The photo above is from 2010.)

If this long-ass post and all the links don’t fascinate you, then don’t apply for WWFF15. Seriously. This isn’t some reverse-psychology marketing ploy. If you’re not comfortable being uncomfortable, you’re gonna end up being miserable.

You have to really want to do this.

OK, so I really want to do this. How do I apply?

Thankfully, the application is much easier than the assignment…

  • You must be enrolled as a college student as of Labor Day 2015. Doesn’t matter if it’s at a small private college, a big public university, a community college, or a fly-by-night online school.
  • Type up a resume and make sure it doesn’t suck. (Here’s some advice on not sucking.)
  • Find links to three of your clips that move you. Doesn’t matter what they’re about. If you’re a reporter, we want to see your favorite stories (print or video). Photographers, your favorite pictures. Designers, your favorite layouts. Write a sentence or two (no more) about what made each clip special to you.
  • Write a letter of no more than 500 words. Tell us why you’re willing to sacrifice a holiday weekend. Tell us something about yourself that a resume and a clip can’t.
  • Past WWFFers will select the 2015 WWFFers, so be honest in your application. In other words, you’re being judged by people close to your own age. So they’ll know if you’re bullshitting them.
  • Email everything to journoterrorist@gmail.com. Deadline to apply is 11:59:59 p.m. EST on Monday, June 1, 2015. But beating deadline reflects well on your chances.
  • We’ll email everyone who applied by Monday, June 15. You’ll know then if you’re accepted or an alternate. (We’ll explain the alternate thing to those it applies to.)

Questions? Email me.

And maybe watch this short video from WWFF14…