Forest Knolls students host walk for homeless
Fifteen-hundred rainbow-colored pieces of Trix cereal stuffed in a large plastic container represented something much more sinister to the children of Forest Knolls Elementary School in Silver Spring last week.
Each Trix piece symbolized one of the many men, women and children in Montgomery County who spent last night in the cold rain and not in their own homes, Charlotte Garvey Corbett, an outreach assistant for Interfaith Works, told the students at an assembly last week.
"Lots of people are homeless for lots of different reasons, and they all need our help," Corbett said. She and several others from Interfaith Works, a non-sectarian community ministry in the county, were helping the school's staff organize their first-ever walk for the homeless at Forest Knolls on Thursday.
In preparation, all month long the students solicited donations from their families and signed permission slips agreeing they'd participate in the walk. Even if their families didn't attach a check along with the slip, the numbers alone are significant to help the homeless, Corbett explained.
Interfaith Works receives a grant from Fannie Mae, a Washington, D.C.-based housing finance company, to provide community shelters and emergency support programs in the county. Every homeless walk a school or organization performs counts as money in the grant's vault, Corbett said.
But with a high percentage of students participating and almost $3,500 in donations, this homeless walk was one of the best for a first-time school, Corbett said.
Forest Knolls principal, Donald Masline, said he was equally surprised at his school's turnout. Many families are low-income, and even a few are homeless themselves, he said. The homeless walk's organizer, Forest Knolls counselor Beth Cygnarowicz, agreed.
"In this economic situation, I don't think we would have dreamed we'd get the response we did," Masline said.
Although the walk provided about an hour's break outside the classroom and gave the students a chance to scream and run through the hallways the same rain that chilled many on the streets the night before was pouring over Forest Knolls on Thursday their teachers said they also learned valuable lessons about the plight of the county's homeless.
"The typical image of a homeless person is someone dirty and shaking a cup on a street corner," Corbett said.
But after she read stories to the children about the many different types of people who are homeless she said they realized the problem is much closer to home.
"In this school, it could be the person sitting next to you," she said.
Interfaith Works runs a shelter explicitly for homeless elderly women, something Corbett said caught many of the children off guard and left them asking how they could help.
"The idea of little old ladies being homeless kind of shakes kids up," she said.
The kids were told that just by turning in a permission form signed by their parents and running around the hallways for an hour, they learned there was something they could do to make the county a home for all.
The students seemed excited about the idea.
"I want to help the homeless," said third-grader Aerin Rostnasshan as she marched with her "Help the homeless" sign on Thursday. "I think people need houses or they might die. We're doing walks so other people know about it."