By Elizabeth R. Elstien,
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A Child’s Place Program Manager Kelly Cates knew early on that she wanted to make the world and her community a better place. Since 1989, this Charlotte nonprofit has worked to “erase the impact of homelessness on children and their education.” During the 2014-2015 school year, A Child’s Place helped 2,075 homeless kids.Working with children from kindergarten to 8th grade living in unstable housing, such as cars, campsites, homeless shelters, pay-by-the-week motels/hotels, or living doubled-up with friends and family, A Child’s Place helps remove the disadvantages and barriers to educational and personal success. As most homeless families are working poor, a variety of programs are in place to ensure both the child and their family are supported for maximum success.
The staff function as liaisons between students and homeless school counselors, making sure transportation to and from school is provided and that unique student needs are met. Their Family Advocacy program helps stabilize the entire family by connecting parents with housing and education resources, as well as crisis counseling, budgeting, and financial assistance. A healthy dose of reassurance and confidence is always given to boost morale and get the family on their feet again as a cohesive unit.Children living in poverty, especially children with no home base, are sick more often, miss more classes, and can have trouble focusing than housed students. “Losing valuable, productive time in the classroom causes these students to fall behind in their studies without the necessary time and resources to catch up,” says Emily Ransone, who handles communications for A Child’s Place.

As a privately funded agency, community volunteers are crucial to keep A Child’s Place programs running. Aside from donations of money, toiletries, snack, clothes and other items, the organization runs with the help of many volunteers. Student support volunteers, for instance, must be at least age 18 and have completed high school. Volunteers can act as tutors, classroom assistants, or lunch buddies ? eating lunch with the child in school once a week, as well as playing games, talking, or reading. Other volunteers may help with charity events, work in the office or organize donations. Businesses or groups can host “a fundraising event, such as tailgates, casual dress Fridays, 5Ks and bake sales to support the needs of our students,” Ransone says.

When you’re working with some of the most vulnerable in our community,” Cates says, “you want to make a positive impact on their lives, and I believe that education can be that light in the darkness. Plus, have you ever seen a child’s face when that light bulb goes off? That’s pure joy!”

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