Making A Difference Starts With Me

By Tanekia Henderson

Have you ever looked at your community or around your neighborhood through the lens of someone less fortunate? Have you considered there are people around you who mask the harsh realities of being without…a home…a job…or money? This year, my second grade class and I started our grassroots project this way; we wanted to closely find an issue in our communities that is overlooked and sometimes forgotten:Homelessness.

Our initial quest to find a grassroots campaign topic started with myself asking the students in my classroom, “What are some problems or issues, you’ve seen in your communities that you would like to change?” Before I could finish the question;  eager hands flew in the air, and wheels started turning inside of their heads to recall things they wanted to change in their communities. Various answers were given: violence, littering, shootings, obesity, no parks, abandoned buildings; things we regularly see. Then there was one student whose hand remained, I called on her and she replied homelessness’. This one word sparked a conversation that lives daily in our classroom.

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Our First Steps

As a class, we had to research the meaning of homelessness to find out the ‘hows’ and ‘whys’ of why an individual is homeless. From our research, we learned terminology and classifications of being homeless. After this, students immediately became engaged in the our grassroots campaign and identifying more characteristics of a homeless individual. The students and I discovered that making a difference in our communities can start with us.

I presented a survey to the families of the class, with the help of their parents, each student identified three things; 1)the community they lived in, 2) a reason they believed an individual became homeless, and 3)who they think is greatly affected. We were able to share our thoughts, and I was able to supply the students with some harsh statistics I found while researching on the topic.

In class, we viewed the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless website. Through the website, we learned there are a vast number of children and families that are greatly affected by homelessness in Chicago due to: a parent suffering from low wages, single family homes, domestic violence, mental illness, overpopulated homes, and high rental rates. We decided enough was enough, and we needed to find a way to make others aware that homelessness is an issue that affects all. Although it may not affect us all directly, it has become very evident that this affects our children to see another child their age without a home.

Our Actions

We got busy researching on the internet to try to identify who is already doing this work. To our surprise, there were multiple organizations that are available to assist and help families. Eager to hear their thinking, I asked, “What are some things we can do as a class to help others?”  We began outlining some short and long term goals we wanted to achieve in the class to promote homelessness awareness in our communities. Other goals were to organize a food or clothing drive for a family shelter, find a homeless shelter to financially support, partner with an organization already helping homeless, and research the hashtag #lunchbag.  We were on a role with ideas about how to help end homelessness.  Students suggested that we contact local officials about the problem of homelessness and create a video on the effects of homelessness on school-age children.

The Difference Starts With Me

After setting our goals, we decided to organize a school-wide winter coat drive. Our class was excited to bring in new and gently used hats, scarfs, gloves and coats to donate to a family shelter. After posting flyers around the school, we began collecting donations. Our winter clothing drive lasted two weeks, and during that time we collected…drum roll please… over 20 hats, 15 scarfs, a host of gloves, and 10 coats in various sizes. But, it didn’t stop there….we also collected over 10 pairs of boots and shoes, clothing for both boys and girls. My students are super-charged in helping to end homelessness around them. Our ultimate goal is to contact local officials and propose a law that will have banks and communities fund housing through the process of renovating worn-down and abandoned houses in our communities, which will be donated to homeless families.
If you would like to help us, email thenderson@vlacademy.org.

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