On the dry-erase board she writes, “If people would just ________ they wouldn’t be poor.” The group of high school students from Wisconsin answer with a variety of reasons such as: work harder, go to college, invest their money, budget better. 20-year-old Ayrianna Longs, a junior at North Park University, leads a poverty simulation during a BridgeBuilders visit. This poverty simulation takes visitors to the Woodlawn community through a variety of scenarios in which they are asked to make a difficult decision, similar to decisions many people in the community face on a daily basis. For Ayrianna, the passion she brings to discussing race, poverty, and justice comes from real-life experience.
Ayrianna grew up just a few blocks from Sunshine in the Woodlawn neighborhood. She was involved in many of Sunshine’s programs from the time she was in elementary school. She excelled academically and was admitted into the prestigious Walter Payton College Prep High School. Hard-working, an observer, and even shy when she was younger, Ayrianna is becoming a voice for her generation. Sunshine was blessed to be able to bring her on staff this summer to help lead BridgeBuilders groups.
BridgeBuilders welcomed 300 guests during the summer months. Groups came for a week-long service-learning program led by Sunshine staff and interns. They partnered with local agencies in Woodlawn for outings and service projects that allowed interaction with the community. Evening discussions focused around the topics of justice, poverty, race, and equity. Ayrianna led many of those discussions. “One of my favorite parts of evening discussions was getting to address negative stereotypes about the southside. Even though I’ve had a harder life than many who were visiting, I’m proud of being from the southside and who it’s made me to be. I know I have a lot of resilience because I’ve had to struggle more,” she shares. She developed friendships as she served alongside groups during the week and it brought a deeper awareness and opportunity for understanding. “It’s fulfilling to be able to bridge the gap of understanding and experience for people.”
Ayrianna is currently in her junior year at North Park University. She is studying Sociology and Criminal Justice. She works multiple part-time jobs including being an RA in her dorm and serving in the Catalyst program on campus which hosts events that focus on discussing race, poverty, and justice. She is the embodiment of the resilience of the Woodlawn neighborhood as she forges ahead in the path God has laid out for her life. For all the Sunshine staff who have loved Ayrianna for years, seeing the amazing young woman she has grown into leaves us beaming with pride.