RENO — More than 2,000 students in Washoe County School District were identified as homeless last year. Students who are living in a shelter, motel, with another family due to financial issues and students who have been abandoned all classify as homeless and are the target of WCSD’s Children in Transition program (CIT).
The Education Alliance of Washoe County partnered with CIT for the program’s annual Stuff-A-Bus event Friday outside of Wal-Mart in Reno where CIT collected school supplies, clothing and monetary donations for homeless students heading back to Washoe County schools on Monday.
The Kietzke Lane location was flooded with donations of crayons, markers, pencils, notebooks and backpacks as members of CIT recorded and stored the items for transit to the Education Alliance Teacher’s Warehouse. Katie Morales, a homeless child liaison for CIT, said their involvement with homeless students is vital to ensure them equal opportunity in Washoe County schools.
“This last year we had 2,400 students who were considered homeless. Our numbers are increasing each year and every school has a child who is in need,” she said. “It is our goal to make sure they are receiving every benefit they can.”
Morales said CIT monitors incoming families and students to the program to confirm they have updated shot records, birth certificates and, a growing necessity, school uniforms. With more schools moving to uniform attire, donations of khaki pants and polo shirts will be a priority for this year’s transition students.
“We pay for lab fees, sports fees, clothing, shoes, Advanced Placement classes and anything that will help them have the same opportunity as the other kids in school,” Morales said.
Umpqua Bank, a corporate sponsor of the event, parked their ice cream van between the school bus and the loading truck to offer free ice cream to donors and passers by. Branch Manager Teri Connelly, of the S. Virginia Street and Moana Lane branch, said providing several volunteers and free ice cream was not the most important part of their focus.
“This program is important because there are so many children people don’t realize are homeless,” she said. “Having the supplies and tools and seeing how much they will help and how they keep them on the same level playing field as their peers is crucial to their success this year and in the future.”
Connelly said identifying and helping homeless children can be even more difficult when children do not understand the conditions they are living under and the inhibiting effect on their ability to excel in school.
“A lot of kids don’t realize they are even in (a homeless) situation and it is nice to help the parents who have to pay electricity and food and are unable to afford the little things. With current school budget cuts things dwindle at a very high rate and any help we can provide is beneficial,” Connelly said.
Monica Ayala has worked with the CIT program for eight years and was able to monitor donation efforts last year. She said donation numbers, though unofficial, seem greater than last year and the enthusiasm from the community will really show when the counting and disbursing begins.
Ayala said getting the students fully supplied heading into school is important but the work of CIT advocates inside the schools will be essential to continue providing for transition students.
“We have a CIT advocate at every school, usually the counselor, and they are assigned to identify the needs of those students at their school and we can provide what they need,” Ayala said. “Because of the growing homeless student numbers, we are planning to go out into the community more and try to collect more donations than we ever have. In the winter we will do a shoe drive and coat drive to try to supply those children for the colder weather and keep them clothed during cold conditions.”
Donations continued until 6 p.m. with dozens of boxes already loaded before the afternoon was reached. Connelly, who arrived before donations were being accepted at 7 a.m. said the community response throughout the day had not been constant, but plentiful during morning and afternoon spurts.
“We usually don’t have this many supporters this early in the day, and some people are giving monetary donations that we can take into the store and buy more of what is neeeded,” she said. “There are so many students enrolled in this program that every single donation will end up going to one school or another. Every little bit counts, even one pack of pencils or one notebook, and it will always be put to good use.”