DAMES, DO-GOOD and DRINKS – Guest Blog by Jean Pedigo

Last Summer I was in San Francisco for an amazing birthday day event. My good-hearted friend arranged for about 20 of us to serve meals to the homeless at Glide Memorial Church. She has been a long-time volunteer there and was hugging staff and completely in her element.  A few of us were not so comfortable. That afternoon we served over 500 lunches at a break-neck speed, while the staff bellowed out orders. It was orderly, yet chaotic at the same time. After we ripped off our hair nets, cleaned the food off of our shoes, we left that world and crossed the street to a hip bar, where she had set up a fun, late afternoon of food, drinks, games and good cheer. Two hours of good-will, followed by a few hours of good cheer. I was blown away by what a great idea this was and vowed to do something similar for my birthday.

I have been a Partner to must! charities for almost two years, and have been able to see close-up how much impact they have in our community. ECHO Homeless Shelter in Atascadero was a recipient last year of a 4 year, half million dollar collaboration with must! charities. I set my sights on ECHO. I reached out to Kyle Wommack of must! charities, as she volunteers there regularly and she directed me to Mimi who coordinates the volunteers. ECHO serves dinner nightly at 5pm until 6pm, with an expected clientele of approximately 75. When you take on an evening with your group, it is understood that you will provide the entire meal – prepped ahead of time. So my birthday plan started percolating in my brain. I sent out an invitation to about 40 female friends, entitled it “Dames, Do-good and Drinks”. Knowing that many would not be able to attend all parts of the day, I gave the option to volunteer where they could.  From 1 to 4pm I planned the dinner prep at my house. I then gave the option to bake cookies to those who could not make any part of the day. Those were either dropped off at my house or at ECHO. From 4:30 – 6pm I gave the option to join us at ECHO to finalize the meal and serve the clients. And lastly – at 6:15, whomever could join, met us at The Grape Encounters EmPOURium for drinks and what turned into dinner!

I am fortunate to have so many friends that wanted to be there and take part in giving back to the community – they were rockstars! My friend Cynthia gave a suggested prayer to the clients as they waited outside, I got choked up, she got choked up, it was a meaningful moment. We were packed into the tiny kitchen, but too many cooks in this case, did not spoil the broth. We went to work like an army. I just watched my friends take charge, look to me for information and it ran, for the most part, like a well-oiled machine! We served lasagna, salad, mashed potatoes, rolls, homemade cookies and brownies. We were all pretty pleased to hear a few clients say “This is the best meal I have ever had here!”. Mission accomplished, I was super happy. When a few clients found out it was my actual birthday and they wanted to meet me and thank our group, I gave them hugs and felt so gratified.

We are all human beings, equal and the same.

PBS: 1.3 million Students are Homeless

Check out this opinion piece from PBS – complete article can be found HERE.

There are more than 1.3 million students in our country’s public school system with no safe place to call home. Equal to the number of all K-12 students in Virginia or the entire population of Dallas, Texas, these young people pursue their education while contending with the anxiety of homelessness and grinding poverty.

Imagine, if you can, trying to memorize your multiplication tables or the Bill of Rights while standing in line outside of a shelter. Imagine wearing the same clothes you wore yesterday and hoping your friends won’t notice—or if they do, that they won’t ask why. Imagine not knowing if you will sleep in the same place tonight as you did last night, or if you will have to search for a new place to rest. Now tell me, what does the 10th Amendment say again?

Our homeless students hold as much promise, and are as much a part of this country’s future, as every other student. And while that’s easy to say, the reality is we haven’t taken the steps to ensure homeless students get the support they need to succeed in school. The results of our inaction are staggering. Students who experience homelessness are 87 percent more likely than their stably-housed peers to drop out of school—the highest dropout rates in the country. In turn, young people without a high school diploma or GED are 4.5 times more likely to experience homelessness, perpetuating the cycle of poverty and despair.

A young person’s housing situation should have no bearing on their access to opportunity. When students experiencing homelessness don’t get a fair shot at graduation or a pathway to success we deny them the American Dream. Nearly three out of four homeless students reported being motivated to complete their educations and take the next steps in their careers, notwithstanding their traumatic circumstances. If they are hopeful about their futures, we must be too.

So what’s to be done? In an otherwise chaotic time of homelessness, schools can be pillars of stability. Students spend a significant portion of their day in school and, as a result, schools can help identify homeless students, provide a safe and consistent place to study, and connect them to caring adults and community resources. Encouragingly, under the federal McKinney-Vento law, all districts and states are required to have liaisons to provide such supports.

These ideas aren’t just academic, they’re working in school districts around the country. In the Tukwila School District in Washington State, nearly 12 percent of students have been identified as homeless. Tukwila embraced the challenge by training educators and school staff to identify early warning signs of homelessness, like low attendance and falling grades, and to provide transportation, counseling, tutoring, housing and other services they need to keep students on track.

While the graduation rate for homeless students in Washington State was 52 percent in 2015, it was 73 percent for homeless students in Tukwila, exceeding the average graduation rate for all students in the district. In Deer Park Independent Schools in Texas, the graduation rates for homeless students approaches 100 percent. In the Commonwealth of Virginia, the rate of progress in boosting graduation rates for homeless students has exceeded the rate of gains for all students. If we can provide an equitable education for homeless students in Tukwila, Deer Park and Virginia, we can do it everywhere in the country.

In every school district in America there are students experiencing homelessness, and they deserve an opportunity to succeed. That’s why America’s Promise Alliance, Civic Enterprises, the Institute for Children, Poverty and Homelessness and SchoolHouse Connection are spearheading the Education Leads Home campaign. The campaign aims to achieve a 90 percent high school graduation rate for all homeless students by 2030, a 60 percent post-secondary attainment rate by 2034, and equal rate of participation in quality early childhood programs for homeless children as their housed peers by 2026. Education Leads Home will spread best practices from places like Tukwila, Deer Park and Virginia across the country, raise awareness of the importance of focusing on this vulnerable population of students, and bring together a powerful coalition of organizations and leaders to support homeless students.

We owe it to our kids and our country to rise to this challenge and ensure the homeless students of today do not become the homeless adults of tomorrow.