Home-schooled students ‘part of the solution’ | TheUnion.com

Home-schooled students ‘part of the solution’

Photo courtesy Vanissa Messer

A group of more than a dozen home-schooled students will be getting a small taste of what it’s like to be homeless Saturday night when they sleep outside in cardboard boxes as part of a fundraiser for Hospitality House.

The “Think Outside the Cardboard Box” event is intended both to raise money for the homeless shelter and Utah’s Place, its permanent facility, and to raise awareness, said executive director Cindy Maple.

“Every homeless person in our community should have a warm, safe place where they can go at night and sleep without fear,” she said. “While this will be a fun event, there is a painful and serious message behind what it represents. On any given night in Nevada County, there are hundreds of people without a place to call home.

“Cardboard boxes are not meant for people to sleep in or to live in; tents and other makeshift shelters cannot provide comfort, stability or protection for anyone for any length of time.”

Maple, whose nonprofit is in the middle of an extensive capital campaign for Utah’s Place, said similar events have been hosted by homeless advocates around the country.

“What they discovered is this type of event is a fun yet informative way to rally community members of all ages to join in the effort to end homelessness in our country,” she said.

And there definitely will be community members of all ages on hand. One group that already has raised more than the $100 pledge needed per person will be very visible — a number of students who are home-schooled through Twin Ridges home study charter school, who will be wearing matching T-shirts designed for the event.

Fourteen students plan to sleep in boxes to partially experience the everyday reality of a homeless individual, said mom Debbie McDonald, adding that the students have served meals monthly for the past four years to Hospitality House guests.

McDonald said the students decided to focus on Hospitality House as part of a social entrepreneurism class, where they explore organizations that are “doing something amazing.”

As part of the class, the students attended the Grass Valley City Council meeting Tuesday, so they could examine the issue of homelessness
from a variety of perspectives, she said.

They also marched through downtown Grass Valley on Wednesday to raise awareness for World Homeless Day.

According to mom Vanissa Messer, the students were inspired by councilwoman Yolanda Cookson’s words during the council meeting Tuesday.

“One takeaway from that meeting was clear, inspirational and is being executed,” said Messer. “That was, ‘Be part of the solution.’

“This slogan hit home with the kids, especially because (Cookson) will also be sleeping in a box at the hospitality House fundraiser this weekend.”

And Wednesday’s march through downtown, which some of the kids found uncomfortable, was a good object lesson, McDonald said.

“We had a discussion of why this was worthwhile,” she said, adding that they also discussed the ethics of fundraising versus panhandling.

“The point is to push yourself to the point where you feel uncomfortable,” McDonald said.

“That’s why I’m sleeping in a box, which I’m uncomfortable with … I’d rather not sleep in a box, but I’m sure homeless people would rather not sleep in a box. I probably wouldn’t do this if I didn’t have kids and want to model this for the next generation.”

The 13 students in the class range in age from 11 to 18.

“We meet once a week … and do different projects,” McDonald said. “Twelve of (the students) are boys, so we do lots of action things.”

The class was brainstorming projects to focus on, and the “Thinking Outside the Cardboard Box” event was a good fit, McDonald said.

“It seemed like something tangible,” she said. “The kids were already familiar with the issues and could take personal ownership for the project by raising the $100.”

The theme of the event also was a great fit.

One of the students is an artist and was inspired to do a design around the phrase “Think outside the box,” McDonald said, adding, “It’s also a mantra for home-schoolers.

“I think they ended up feeling the strength of that message, that all together we can raise $2,000, where me, myself, I might be able to come up with five bucks from my allowance. It gave them a vision for rallying people for a cause.”

To contact Staff Writer Liz Kellar, email lkellar@theunion.com or call (530) 477-4229.

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