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Natural Awakenings Charlotte

Community Spotlight: A Child’s Place, Helping Charlotte’s Homeless Children Stay in School

Aug 04, 2009 07:41PM
By Lisa Moore

August means back-to-school shopping for thousands of students in Charlotte. But for Mecklenburg County’s homeless children, a trip to the store to select the latest backpacks, markers and lunch boxes is not a reality. One local organization is dedicated to erasing the impact of homelessness on children and their education.

A Child’s Place, a collaborative effort between the local community and Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools, seeks to provide support services to enhance academic opportunities for homeless students and to provide services to families to ensure long-term stability and self-sufficiency.

The number of homeless children in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools has increased 20% this past year, with nearly 3,000 school age children identified as homeless and an estimated 600 preschool children. Because of the shame and guilt that accompanies homelessness, there are likely many more.

A Child's Place (ACP) provides homeless children with stable, appropriate education in a mainstream setting. Comprehensive and timely assessments ensure that students receive the instruction and services they need.

Children who are homeless may move up to 2-3 times during a school year. Changing schools each time they moved, would hurt them academically. Executive Director Annabelle Suddreth says it is important for kids to stay in the school they attended when they had a home.

“For children without a permanent home, school becomes the most stable part of their day,” she says. “It’s where they see the same teacher, they sit in the same seat and play with the same friends.”

Suddreth has seen a change in the types of needs families are experiencing this year. With increasing prices and the loss of jobs or hours, many are not able to make ends meet and other community agencies are not able to meet all of the community needs.

“We found that families were not able to provide food for their families. So we started a food pantry and were able to provide food at times when children are out of school and not able to get free breakfast and lunch,” she states.

For homeless students who are in need of extra support in order to achieve academic success, food, clothing, personal hygiene products and school supplies are distributed. Volunteer professionals provide medical, dental and counseling services.  Volunteer tutors and "lunch buddy" mentors also offer academic and emotional support to children coping with stress, fear and other emotions resulting from homelessness.

Through its Family Advocacy program, A Child's Place provides parents connections to the employment, housing and education opportunities that can lead to a life of stability. Links to crisis counseling, budgeting and financial assistance programs are also available, along with emotional support and encouragement.

Nadia’s family was assisted by ACP earlier this year. She was excited to get her own room after living with her mother and brothers for a full school year in one motel room. Her mother, who does not own a car, struggled to get her children to school every day and herself to her full-time office job.  ACP coordinated the provision of after-school tutoring, help with transportation and the transition to the family’s own house.

A Child's Place is 100% privately funded and receives no federal, state or local tax dollars. There is no endowment or business on the side to generate revenue. The organization relies on donations to stay afloat and has seen their numbers drop this year.

Beyond monetary gifts, ACP is in need of items like school supplies, toiletry items, school uniforms, socks, underwear and snacks. “We try to put a nutritious snack in every child’s backpack each day in case they don’t get dinner that night,” says Suddreth.

With A Child’s Place services needed now more than ever, she wants to be able to provide assistance, turning no one away. Volunteers are needed as lunch buddies, tutors, snack providers, birthday sponsors and classroom assistants. Suddreth says that serving for just an hour a week can make a dramatic difference in a child’s academic success.

“You wouldn’t believe what a big impact that small investment in time can make!"

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