'Dreamer' Helps Homeless on Her Way Out of Washington

When Iran Carlos' Washington, D.C. internship dies, she turned her focus to helping those in need by donating items to the homeless.

When her academic dream died for the second time in recent months, Iran Carlos packed up her food, her bedding, her household items, and walked beneath two bridges in Washington, D.C., to give everything she had to the homeless.

“Our dorm in Washington was closing due to the coronavirus and we had all this food,” says Carlos, a Buena Vista University senior who began serving The Ecological Society of America through The Washington Center for Internships & Academic Seminars in January. A would-be semester-long experience ended on Wednesday when interns were directed to return to their home states, a result of the pandemic.

Carlos, a native of Mexico, was brought to Iowa by her parents when she was nine months old. A DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) recipient, she dreamed of studying abroad when she came to BVU as a freshman in 2016. During her four-year college experience, however, “Dreamers” like Carlos were advised to remain within the U.S.

With one dream dashed, Carlos didn’t despair; rather, she earned the opportunity to spend the final semester of her undergraduate experience living, working, and studying in the nation’s capital, aiding officials with The Ecological Society of America as they conducted marketing and educational efforts on social media and the Internet.

“As long as I’ve known [Iran Carlos], her focus has been on making the world a better place for others."

Dr. Andrea Frantz, Professor of Digital Media

When she learned of the opportunity ending due to the spread of COVID-19, Carlos’ heart sank. She returned to a dorm room she shared with Kristen Charette, a fellow BVU senior who served as an intern for a defense attorney in Washington. The pair took stock of how much they had in the way of food and supplies. They had intended to stay until May 2, after all.

“We were about the last ones remaining here and several of our friends had dropped off food and other items with us before they left,” Carlos says. “We didn’t want anything to go to waste.”

Carlos and Charette, whose dorm stands near the Metro station in Washington, had seen homeless persons near their residence. They gathered all they could, asked a friend to join them, and headed for a pair of nearby bridges to give it all away.

“We began making sandwiches. I separated snacks and fruit items,” Carlos recalls. “We were afraid people might take things at first. But then we met people who waited for us to approach. One woman told me she suffered from AIDS and having fresh produce would help her keep up her health as she’s vulnerable to the virus. She was grateful to get apples, oranges and celery.”

Carlos and Charette also left rolls of toilet paper, blankets, sheets, and pillows with those in need.

“Handing someone a fresh ham sandwich and seeing it make their day is something I’ll remember,” Carlos says. “Homelessness isn’t something I’ve seen much of in Iowa. In Washington, D.C., it kind of slaps you in the face.”

“Iran Carlos is among the most empathetic people I have ever met,” says Dr. Andrea Frantz, BVU Professor of Digital Media. “As long as I’ve known her, her focus has been on making the world a better place for others. Whether through her leadership in campus organizations like KBVU or RAICES, or her mentorship with Buena Vista University’s international students, she aims to make people feel better, aim higher, and be better.”

As she readied on Saturday for her return to Iowa, Carlos reflected on having everything she needed while growing up in Belmond, raised by immigrant parents who worked hard to send her to college, hoping she’d gain experiences that would shape her future.

It happened. In four years of classes. Through a number of leadership positions on the BVU campus. And, beneath a pair of bridges as the sun warmed the nation’s capital one frenzied Friday in March. Iran Carlos, who will earn a degree in political science in May, seeks a career with a nonprofit entity, working to directly serve people in need. Like the people she met on Friday, whose faces remain fresh in her memory.

“These are some of the most vulnerable people in our society, vulnerable to sickness, and they’re not on the top of peoples’ minds,” she says.