By Bridget O’Shea
The North Shore-based Student Alliance for Homeless Youth hopes to make the transition back to school easier for dozens of children, ages 3 to 16, who are currently living at the Madonna House, a Chicago shelter for homeless women and children.
On Aug. 15, members of the SAHY, which includes students from New Trier and Maine South high schools, completed a school supply drive that filled 31 backpacks with pencils, erasers, pens, notebooks and other school supplies, organizers said.
New Trier senior Olivia O’Bryan said she and other SAHY members encouraged shoppers at an Office Depot store in Evanston and a Walgreens in Glencoe to buy supplies or give cash donations for the cause.
“We had a basic list of things for people who were going into Office Depot and Walgreens,” she said.
Lauren Miller, another New Trier senior and member of SAHY, said after researching several Chicago-area shelters, the alliance chose the Madonna House, which gives women and children a place to stay for up to six months.
“They have about 15 families and it provides a stable place for them,” she said.
When collecting the supplies, Miller said, the alliance wanted to be as mindful as possible of all the age groups they were serving.
“Our main focus was that we don’t want to give a 16-year old the same supplies as a 5-year old,” she said. “We wanted to get things that would serve their specific needs.”
The alliance collected cartoon-themed backpacks and colorful pencils and notebooks for younger students, while high school students received sturdier backpacks and supplies like calculators, Miller said.
O’Bryan and Miller explained that SAHY utilizes a three-pronged approach that includes raising awareness for homeless youth, reducing barriers to education for this population, and providing them with services.
To increase awareness, Miller said, the alliance brings people who have experienced homelessness to Hubbard Woods Park every fall.
“To raise awareness and understanding, we have a vigil and we invite people who have experienced homelessness to come and share their story,” she said. “For example, a lot of people don’t know that technically you’re homeless if you’re living with a grandparent because your parents cannot afford housing.”
To provide services for homeless youth, the alliance, which has previously included students from Loyola Academy and North Shore Country Day School, hosts fundraisers and parties throughout the year for homeless youth, members said. Fundraisers and events include Halloween and holiday parties at places such as the Kelly Hall YMCA in Chicago’s Humboldt Park neighborhood, they said.
“It’s mostly drives, fundraisers and parties for homeless children,” said O’Bryan.
“We try to do something every month,” Miller added.
Miller said the alliance, which was started about five years ago, has also raised funds for the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless and the Greater Bethlehem Healing Temple in Chicago, where members hold a Thanksgiving dinner for the homeless every year.