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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Graduating Sunday, Gonzaga student used child and homeless outreach to make her mark beyond school

Malia Hanson, from Seattle, is graduating this weekend from Gonzaga University with a human physiology major and a psychology minor. She was photographed Friday at College Hall at Gonzaga.  (Jesse Tinsley/The Spokesman-Review)
By Jim Allen For The Spokesman-Review

Officially, Malia Hanson will graduate Sunday from Gonzaga University with a bachelor’s degree in human physiology.

She’ll pick up her diploma, then return home to Seattle with dreams of becoming a chiropractor.

But Hanson’s college experience has been much deeper than that, and has taken her far beyond campus. Volunteering to help children and the homeless, she’s touched the lives of hundreds of Spokane residents through Gonzaga’s Center for Community Engagement.

Most people would rather keep their distance from the homeless, and Hanson understands that.

“The biggest problem is labeling and putting these people into stereotypes,” Hanson said last week. “These are just regular people; they hit a bump in the road and they just want help and they just want friends.

“They’re not all druggies who are up to no good,” Hanson said.

At an early age, Hanson found satisfaction in serving others. As a teen in Seattle, she volunteered to help at a women’s and children’s center, cooking meals and helping set up tent cities.

Hanson also excelled in high school soccer at Holy Names Academy and faced a tough decision in the summer of 2019: continue playing at a higher level or become a regular student.

She opted for the latter but it’s hardly been a regular experience.

“I’d play soccer my entire life,” Hanson said. “All of the things that have happened to me have helped me be OK with that decision.”

Hanson was the one who really made things happen.

As a junior, Hanson was a mentor at Longfellow Elementary School with the Campus Kids program at the engagement center, which coordinates public service programs, including engaged learning courses and community volunteer and outreach programs.

At the elementary school in northeast Spokane, she volunteered as a mentor for a young student.

“I could see the growth he had, and it was really refreshing to be around noncollege students,” Hanson said. “Plus, I always loved working with kids.”

After that first experience, Hanson saw an opportunity for more growth within the engagement center, which helps students fulfill Gonzaga’s Jesuit mission of working in and with communities.

Hanson found a new opportunity after an interview with Skye Clark, the AmeriCorps coordinator at Gonzaga Family Haven, a permanent housing apartment complex for families who were previously unhoused.

She learned of a new opening with Safe Haven, which provides children’s programming.

“I was excited for what we could do for these kids,” said Hanson, who planned weekly children’s programming that involved identity-building and life-skill activities.

“The activities we do are fun and purposeful, but what has struck me the most is how appreciative the kids are that we are there,” she said. “These kids have been through more than most people I know at such a young age. Our weekly programming gives them just two hours where they can be kids and have fun.”

Typically, Hanson worked with groups of half a dozen younger children. Her work found appreciation at Gonzaga Family Haven.

“Hanson has provided so much support and passion into growing the program, even extending her commitment from one semester to a full year,” Clark said. “We are so grateful for her service and are excited to see where her next steps post-graduation takes her.”