Editor’s Desk

Column: Lend a hand to homeless students

jwhitfield@newsobserver.comFebruary 14, 2014 


Johnny Whitfield, columnist The Eastern Wake News and The Clayton News Star.

TAKAAKI IWABU — tiwabu@newsobserver.com Buy Photo

School isn’t a place we normally equate with homelessness, but the problem exists right here at East Wake High School. You can help.

School of Arts principal Mike James recently told me he has a student who is homeless. The boy had previously attended East Wake, but moved in with family members in another county. For whatever reason, the funds the family members had received to help support the boy stopped flowing and he had to leave that home.

He wanted to come back to eastern Wake County, where he knew people and where he was known. Without a place to live, he didn’t stand much of a chance of finishing school this year. But James and the folks at school made arrangements for the boy to stay at one of the homeless shelters in Raleigh until the end of the school year. And they arranged transportation to get the boy back and and forth from downtown Raleigh to East Wake.

The boy’s on schedule to graduate this spring and he wants to enter the military, which is a great idea. He’ll earn a living, develop a skill and be assured of a place to sleep and meals each day.

Right now, it’s those meals that are mostly on James’ mind. The student he’s working with this year isn’t the first homeless student he has worked with. “We had one last year, too. I’m sure we’ll have more,” James said.

So James has an idea that he’s proposed to parents who work with him on a parents advisory council at the school. What you’re about to read is an unabashed solicitation to expand James’ request beyond that small group of parents.

James wants to establish a supply closet on campus and stock it with a variety of items a homeless child can use: toiletries like toothbrushes, toothpaste, deodorant, clothes, ready-to-eat foods that don’t require heating or cooling to eat.

So here’s the solicitation: You don’t have to be a parent to help this effort. You can purchase an extra item or two during your weekly trip to the grocery store and take it to the school.

There are far too many children in school today who, frankly, don’t care about being there. James is working with a boy who has overcome obstacles most of us can’t imagine just to be at school. He has a purpose. He has a plan. Why in the world would we not want to help this boy meet his goals?

When you lay down to sleep tonight in your comfortable bed in your warm home, I hope you are pricked by the thought of this boy’s story. And I hope you get up tomorrow and go straight to the school with your donation. It’s not hard. It’s not expensive. Eastern Wake county folks have a reputation for taking care of their own.

This boy’s desire to return to East Wake wasn’t an arbitrary decision. He knew the teachers. And the teachers knew him. And the teachers were committed to working with him to catch him up and help him meet his goals.

“I’m impressed that this student did want to come back to finish. It’s because he already had a relationship with awesome teachers in my school. He was known. How powerful is it that we know our kids that well? If he hadn’t been known, would he have come back?” James said.

My question is this: If this boy is likely not to be the last homeless student to attend East Wake, what are we waiting for when the call goes out from the school to help them make a success story out of that student? Or the next? Or the next?

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