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Student leader honored for work with homeless vets, LGBT populations

Megan Salisbury
November 28, 2012

Megan Salisbury, a high-achieving student in the School of Social Work at Arizona State University, has been selected as a recipient of the 2013 MLK Student Servant-Leadership award for her work with homeless veteran and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) populations.

Salisbury decided to dedicate her life to service after the events of Sept. 11, 2001 made her realize that material possessions do not equate to a fulfilling life. With a one-way ticket in hand, Salisbury moved to Arizona where she enrolled in ASU and Barrett, the Honors College to pursue a bachelor’s degree in social work. She also began volunteering at Central Arizona Shelter Services, the Arizona Coalition to End Homelessness, Mulligan’s Manor, Arizona StandDown and Project H3: Vets.

As part of her work, Salisbury frequently meets with shelter staff members to open discussion about the unique needs of the LGBT community and make suggestions about how to better serve this population.

“We try to craft solutions that are practical and financially friendly," Salisbury says. "Usually in homeless shelters there are communal bathrooms. One solution to help not just the transgender community, but essentially everyone, is to install shower curtains on a couple stalls to offer privacy."

Volunteering has become such a large part of her life that Salisbury says she is most comfortable “in jeans and a T-shirt doing street outreach.”

“It’s one of my favorite things in the entire universe to do because I love doing things that are tangible,” she says. “I can talk to someone at 3 a.m. and connect them with places like Project H3: Vets that can provide the resources they need.”

When she isn’t volunteering, Salisbury is busy engaging in research projects to help her better understand the stereotypes that society often puts on the homeless community. She also enjoys creating an open discourse with her peers and colleagues about their outlook on helping those less fortunate.

“People often worry about where the five dollars they give is going," she says. "If you are giving someone five dollars, do it without conditions. If that person want to buy a six-pack, then so what? It may be what gets them through the day. Everybody responds to life differently. The best lesson I have learned is that just because I don’t understand, it doesn’t mean it isn’t your truth.”

The lessons learned from personal hardship and service are all for a greater purpose in Salisbury’s eyes: to make her a better member of the community.

“It’s important to get involved, in my opinion, because as a social work student I want to understand the community I live in. I won’t get that entirely from textbooks,” she says.

Salisbury will be presented with the MLK Student Servant Leadership award at the celebratory breakfast from 7 to 9 a.m., Jan. 23, at the Polytechnic campus.