News Blog

NYC of I: Students give back in the Big Apple

The temperature hung around 25 degrees as Zoe Roberts and two other College of Idaho students stood for 12 hours in Times Square on New Year’s Eve, smashed like the cream filling in an Oreo. They had no food. They had no water. They couldn’t leave to go to the bathroom. 

Survival mode kicked in.

The family standing next to them had brought food. When they were done eating, they freed up their hands by tossing the bags to the ground.

“So we just waited until they tossed a bag of pretzels on the ground,” Roberts said. “Then we very slyly picked them up. That’s how we gained our sustenance to survive the rest of the night.”

Albeit in different circumstances, the students got a brief glimpse of what daily life is like for the more than 60,000 homeless New Yorkers. In all, 16 C of I students traveled to New York City with the Center for Student Missions program. The trip was organized by Roberts as part of her internship with C of I Campus Ministries. Roberts choose NYC after going on a family service trip there two years ago.

“That was a really good experience for me and I knew I wanted to take a group of students there to have that same experience,” Roberts said. “It is completely different from Idaho in every single way.”

C of I Campus Ministries has taken mission trips all over the world, including five to NYC. The NYC trip is what Campus Minister Phil Rogers calls an “exposure trip.” As students are exposed to urban issues, they see how NYC residents are addressing them and open up to new thoughts of service.

“[For example], you come back and say, ‘What is the food bank situation like in Boise or Canyon County?’” Rogers said.

Once in the Big Apple, the students were housed at a church in Brooklyn and volunteered at several soup kitchens, including the New York City Rescue Mission and Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen—New York’s largest emergency food program, which serves 800-900 people every day during lunch.  

“I thought it would be a good experience because we don’t have a really big homeless problem [in Idaho],” said Taylor Oppedyk, a sophomore business major. “It’s good to go see what it’s like over there and experience city life.”

The group also went on a neighborhood immersion trip to talk with community members and get a closer view of homelessness and life in NYC. They were led by a soup kitchen volunteer, whom everybody called Coach.

“Coach took us into a neighborhood and showed us around,” said junior biology major Nate Moore. “He told us his life story, including how he saw the Twin Towers fall; he saw the second plane come in.”

In addition to serving, the C of I students also had a chance to site-see around the city, including visits to the Statue of Liberty, the Rockefeller Center and the National September 11 Memorial and Museum.

“It was the coolest thing I saw when I was there,” said Hailey Goode, sophomore business major. “I think that experience is what I cherished the most. Being in the actual spot made it so surreal.”

“I kind of got emotional when I saw all the names on the wall of the people who perished,” Moore said.

Whether they were volunteering to help the NYC homeless, walking around a city shaded by towering steel, or experiencing the underground subway culture, the opportunity to serve in our nation’s largest city was an experience the C of I students won’t soon forget.

“For me, it was a big eye opener in realizing there is so much going on and I am in a little bubble here [in Idaho],” Goode said.

Founded in 1891, The College of Idaho is the state’s oldest private liberal arts college. The C of I has a legacy of academic excellence, a winning athletics tradition and a history of producing successful graduates, including seven Rhodes Scholars and 14 Marshall, Truman and Goldwater Scholars. The College’s close-knit, residential campus is located in Caldwell. Its distinctive PEAK Curriculum challenges students to attain competencies in the four knowledge peaks of the humanities, natural sciences, social sciences and a professional field—empowering them to earn a major and three minors in four years. For more information, visit