Liam celebrated his July 6, 2012, birthday by inviting his part guests to bring gifts for the children experiencing homelessness at our partnering agencies. He will be entering second grade at St Philip in Crafton in September 2012. He wants to be sure that children in homeless situations will have the same opportunities for learning and the same supplies that he will have.
Alana is preparing for her Bat Mitzvah next year and had offered (with her mother) to bring a birthday party to the children and moms at an area homeless housing agency. The first party was in early December 2011. The event was a BIG hit. The children had an opportunity to make a birthday card, they played their favorite games (musical chairs, pin the tail on the donkey)and they were invited to POP-pop-POPPOP balloons. You can image what fun that was. No birthday party is complete without birthday cake, and this one was quickly eaten. The nine children as well as the moms and agency staff agree that "it was a really fun afternoon!!!" AND its likely the best part was learning Alana would be providing a birthday party every single month in 2012. Who could ask for anything more.
Shane and Thomas
These Andrew's Street Propel Charter High School students personally collected books and school supplies for distribution to families currently experiencing homelessness in their community and also raised cash donations from their classmates through an opportunity to select the top music pick to be played over the school's intercom.
Jeremy completed his required City Charter School internship at HCEF. He attended meetings, created and published a Volunteers newsletter, assisted with the Mini-Grants project, and provided office support. Jeremy realized he is a very independent and efficient worker and truly enjoyed the office culture at HCEF. See the newsletters: Issue #1 and Issue #2
Says Jeremy, "My time at HCEF really opened my eyes to how serious the issue of homelessness really is. The experience really taught me a lot and I learned skills that'll help me throughout my future."
Sean, a sophomore at Quaker Valley High School, raised awareness of children and youth experiencing homelessness by inviting elementary school children to participate in running races with their peers. There was no fee to participate, but each child was asked to collect and contribute educational games, art supplies, craft projects, learning toys, school supplies, or cash donations to be given to HCEF for distribution. Sean awarded trophies to the winners of each race.
In his project proposal to HCEF, Sean expressed his desire to educate the Quaker Valley community about the facts of homelessness among children in Allegheny County. And in his closing report he explained his reason for making his fund raising event a project for children in the Quaker Valley elementary schools: "It is plain and simple that in general children want to help other children out. [Here at HCEF we have been witness to that truth over and over again.]
Emilio, Maggie, and Carina
Grandpa is a member of HCEF's Outreach Team. He is also a story teller. His three grandchildren Emilio, Maggie, and Carina are ready listeners when he talks to them about children who are homeless. Emilo one day came to his grandfather to say that he wanted to give money to HCEF to help the children. Good idea, he was told. Good enough, Emilio thought, to tell his younger sisters about his plan and to convince them to contribute also. The three each withdrew $10 from their savings accounts and sent the money to HCEF "for the kids."
Stephanie, a student at City Charter School in downtown Pittsburgh, interned with HCEF in the Fall of 2010. She speaks here of what she learned about homelessness among children in Allegheny County: "My experience at HCEF was amazing. I couldn't have asked for a better internship. Working at HCEF, realizing how many homeless children there are, hits you in the face. You realize that you can do so much for them. I've learned that no matter how small something you do is, it can make a difference. And that difference can mean the world to a child."
Says Stephanie, "Not many people do think about how many homeless children there are. I know I didn't know much about any of it. Working with HCEF has definitely made an impact in my life."
Helping others is important to eight-year-old Ellie Jule Fleischer. When she talked to her Grandma about helping children in need, Grandma called the Homeless Children's Education Fund to ask if a nearby housing provider would welcome Ellie and her spirit of generosity. Ellie chose to visit regularly with the children at a local women's shelter. She also wanted to give something tangible to the kids she met there. To do so meant raising money. Her first fundraising venture was a Chinese Auction she organized for a family holiday party. With the $100 raised, Ellie was able to purchase toys, books, games, and DVDs for the children's playroom. Granddaughter and Grandma now visit the playroom once a month, often bringing such treats as rental movies and home-made movie-style goodie bags for the children.
Ellie says, "I love to help other kids that aren't as lucky as me."
Alyssa, though just three years old, was already determined to make a difference in the lives of kids who are homeless. With scissors she had just learned how to use in preschool (and a "little help" from Mom), she cut pictures from the HCEF Annual Report and pasted them onto a diaper wipes box (with "thanks" to little brother). Family and friends, the cookie lady at Giant Eagle and her colleagues couldn't resist this appeal for donations: "Hi. My name is Alyssa. I am collecting money for the homeless kids. Can you help by giving some change?" Before long, and much to her delight, the pennies and nickels and dimes, even dollar bills began to fill her box. Over a two-month period, she raised $38.54.
As young Alyssa was overheard to say to a day care friend complaining about her lunch: "You should eat that. You know, there are homeless kids that don't have what we have. Even right here in Pittsburgh!"
Praveen an update
Praveen was a senior at Fox Chapel High School when he self-published his first book for children, The Misadventures of Traveen. He has since published his second children's book, The Weather Adventure, and is at work on a novel.
What made him a Winnie's All Star is his donation of the proceeds of that first book to HCEF and his hope to be able to the same with his newest publication. Praveen found out about HCEF from a librarian I met at a Barnes and Noble Essay Competition winners' reception. By that time, he had already decided to publish the book and donate a portion of the profits. He was considering donating the money to a library, but he thought that helping homeless children get an education so they could have better futures was a better cause.
Praveen says, "I've always felt that everyone should get a chance at a good life regardless of background, and education helps do that. I also like the Winnie logo. It makes me think of the children that the money would be helping if I donated it to HCEF." See praveent.com and a photo of Praveen presenting that first check to HCEF staff.
A 7th grade gifted student, Juliana was required to design and execute a co-curricular project. She had read about the "Are you smarter than a 7th grader" project of 7th graders at another school and thought adapting that concept was exactly what she'd like to accomplish. With a go-ahead from the gifted student coordinator, she designed a competition that would lead to a public performance at a May all-school assembly. She challenged the 5th, 6th, and 7th grade homerooms to raise school supplies for children residing in one of the county's residential facilities for families who are homeless. The winning homeroom at each grade level would select one of its classmates to participate in the "Are you smarter than . . ." production in May 2009. Juliana also involved her fellow gifted students in the collection portion of the project. Some also assisted with the production's audio-visuals and others served as contestants.
Says Juliana:"The students really supported the drive and we collected close to 400 various school supplies. A staff member at HCEF selected the Open Arms shelter to receive the supplies. It made me feel real good when I took the supplies to the shelter and met the wonderful people who work there. We all learned a little more about the homeless children in Pittsburgh."
Max was about to turn 7 years old. When he and his parents talked about how to celebrate his birthday, mom and dad suggested that he might use the occasion to raise money for a local charity. His mom told Max about the work of a number of area charities helping children, including HCEF. She had learned about HCEF when she was browsing the website of LabRatz Science Camp, who through HCEF's sponsorship has been taking the Science Camp to children living in homeless shelter. Max himself had definitely an opportunity to participate in a LabRatz camp the previous summer. The importance of going to school and learning was something he understood. And so when he invited his friends to a birthday bowling party, he asked that they please make donations to the Homeless Children's Education Fund instead of giving gifts to him. His friends did exactly that.
Max's selflessness resulted in a contribution to HCEF of $215 for children's programming.
"I had a lot of fun going bowling with my friends on my birthday. And helping kids made my birthday extra special," Max says.
Iris, Hannah, and Michael
Their assignment was to develop a plan for a community service project. These three 5th graders not only developed a plan but executed it. Searching the Internet for ideas, they decided homelessness among children was the issue they wanted to address and hand-knitted scarves their product. Further surfing brought them to HCEF's website and a conversation with HCEF staff about their idea of knitting colorful scarves to be given at Christmas to children living in an area shelter. To make that deadline Iris and Hannah knitted during every free moment. Iris, who was performing in the Nutcracker Suite, even picked up her knitting whenever she was off stage. Together the girls completed 8 of the warm, fuzzy scarves. Michael, who is not a knitter, was assigned to create the greeting cards that accompanied the scarves.
This was the first community service project the children had ever engaged in. ""We get most everything we want at Christmas," the girls said. "We wanted to give to children who get little."
Bella turned 7 in the summer of 2008. Through the activities with HCEF of her mom, dad, and older sister, she has been engaged as an HCEF helper since she was a pre-schooler. (Some of her early drawings and collages still decorate the HCEF office walls.)
Bella, her brother Nat, and their mom have taken over the annual Christmas Gift Package Drive for children who are homeless that big sister Jessika started when she was 12.
But one hot summer day in 2008 (while mom was away) and not long after her 7th birthday, Bella decided on her own to set up a lemonade stand and raise money for HCEF. Nat was recruited to help. She was so excited about the donations collected that she repeated the effort the next week, again with the help of her brother as well as that of her good friend Olivia.
Over the 2 days, Bella was able to raise about $30, despite the fact that she lives on a very quiet one-way-only lane with little traffic. Bella will be out there again next summer, probably in a better location, ready to tell passersby about HCEF and how their donations for a cup of lemonade will help make a difference in the lives of other children.
As Bella told her Mom: "I thought it would make you happy. You tell us about the kids in the shelters all the time, and I thought they could use some money. I'm going to do it again next summer. It was a lot of fun to help! And, they will still need money in the shelters next year, right?"
Jonathan an update!
Jonathan was a sophomore when he first called HCEF and asked if he could conduct a book drive to benefit HCEF. His idea was that each student purchasing books at the academy's Scholastic Book Fair could buy one additional book to be donated to HCEF for distribution through its affiliated residences for moms and their children. That initial effort resulted in over 100 books from kids for kids.
It was just the beginning. Certainly there was more he could do. Of course! The Pack-to-School (now Gear for Grades) program.
In the spring of 2006, with HCEF's blessing, Jonathan identified 130 churches in the county and city whose youth groups he hoped to engage in contributing backpacks and school supplies for the late August Pack-to-School distribution. A flurry of letters, phone calls, and messages followed as he worked to make personal contact with youth group leaders and pastors.
"I am really glad that I did everything that I did," says Jonathan, "even though not as many churches participated as I had hoped. I thought, at least the churches are now aware of the program and they can put it on their agendas for the upcoming year. I also feel satisfied with helping kids get the necessary items to start the school year. I think education is absolutely essential, and I'm glad I could help other kids in their pursuit of knowledge."
The summer of 2008 Jonathan was an intern at HCEF. An eager and willing colleague, he sorted and labeled books that support HCEF's reading program, helped with summer programming and the annual backpack drive, made phone calls, did research, shifted office equipment, and so much more.
Before heading back to school, Jonathan observed,
"There is simply no other place I could intern that would give me the range and kinds of opportunities I've had here. I won't be able to return next summer, but I've encouraged a friend to apply for an HCEF internship."
Alisha, who graduated from City Charter High School in 2007, came to HCEF in Spring 2006 to serve her required third-semester internship. It was while researching the topic of homeless children for her senior project that she learned about the Homeless Children's Education Fund and decided this was the organization she wanted to intern with.
Alisha quickly became an important member of the office team. Her Microsoft certification soon made her the "go-to" person, and she was always quick to share her knowledge of the in's and out's of the software. Alisha prepared a Power Point presentation for a Board of Trustees meeting, created designs for publications, developed charts, and mastered the donor database software.
Not wanting to leave when her internship concluded, Alisha helped deliver backpacks during the Pack-to-School distribution, served as greeter and registrar for a grant distribution event, and participated in an area thrift shop's "Back to school" shopping event for moms and kids residing in housing serving homeless families.
"I loved working with HCEF. It was a great experience and I enjoyed it very much. HCEF helped me understand that every little thing counts. No matter how little you give, it still counts," says Alisha.
Jessiska began her community service and commitment to HCEF in the fall of 2001 when she and her mom contacted HCEF about ways to become involved. That fall the 12-year-old girl organized her first fund raising drive to provide Christmas presents for children in two of the city's centers for homeless mothers and their children. Her efforts that initial year were recognized by HCEF as she became the youngest recipient of its annual Champions for Children Award in 2002.
Jessika's commitment was only beginning. She not only continued her Christmas drive each year throughout her high school years, but also served as an event co-chair with her parents for HCEF's Champions for Children Benefit in 2005. Her involvement in the annual benefit continued in 2006 as she designed special thank you favors for the pre-benefit auction party, worked on benefit favors, and volunteered at the "Champs" event itself.
"I've always understood that my work with HCEF could have an impact. That's what attracted me," says Jessika. "I knew that if I could help even one person to hope or feel joy or love, I would have accomplished something that matters. What I never dreamed was that the children and the people in this organization would teach me so much about myself, the world, and the spirit of people."