On Wednesday November 8 our community came together in solidarity with the homeless. A candlelight vigil was held to remember people without homes who have lost their lives this year and to send hopeful wishes and energy to those in our community who are struggling without enough food and shelter. Guests from the Preble Street Resource Center in Portland and the York County Shelter in Alfred spoke to the group of parents and students around the fire. Songs and stories were shared and the UN Declaration of Human Rights Article 25 was read to the group. “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care, necessary social services, the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.” Our group then sang “Dona Nobis Pacem” (Give Us Peace) and placed candles in the school sandbox where they burned through the night.
After the vigil our three teachers, and any willing and able students, chose to sleep outdoors to experience one night without shelter. As part of an annual nationwide SLEEP OUT movement, initiated by the National Coalition for the Homeless, our group set forth to gain understanding through solidarity with homeless people. By giving up one night of comfort and privilege they hoped to raise awareness and compassion for unsheltered people. Even though the temperatures were expected to be in the 20s and very uncomfortable, a group of 10 students from ages 7-14 and their three teachers braved the weather to have this experience. The group bundled up, laid out large pieces of cardboard as insulation, slipped into their sleeping bags and endured the night with amazing resilience! Waking up in the morning to find ice on the outside of their sleeping bags was completely surprising.
As students reflected the next day they were obviously impacted by the experience. One student remarked that even though he was prepared and had many layers of clothing, hats and gloves, a sleeping bag and warm things, he was still cold. He couldn’t imagine what it would be like to spend the night outdoors being less prepared. Students made stars from the cardboard pieces they slept on and used them to reflect in words and images about their experience. One person wrote “Everyone should have the right to have their basic needs met. Food, shelter, and healthcare should not be negotiable” Stars were hung from the ceiling of the school as a reminder of this impactful event.
As the rest of the students arrived Thursday morning they joined several giving back activities. Bubbling pots of soup were on the stove all day and later donated to the Preble Street Shelter. Fleece blankets were made as well as small house magnets to be sold to raise money for the homeless cause. Students also collected socks and gloves during this theme which were donated to both the Preble Street and York County Shelters.
Events such as this are powerful ways to raise awareness about homelessness and poverty and to bridge the gap between the haves and have nots. Our students have gained understanding, compassion, and empathy through the experience of learning about this topic. We hope the memory of this theme will stay with them as they grow into adulthood and become our future leaders and citizens.