School outreach in Austin reaches thousands

Some of our outreach volunteers at day’s end Thursday. (Photos by Betsy Neely)

Every Child in School, Every Day, a Chase-sponsored outreach campaign in the Austin neighborhood, mobilized 28 volunteers to distribute back-to-school materials Thursday throughout the West Side community.

Volunteers passed out more than 10,700 door hangers, posters and fliers, working under the direction of the CCH Law Project and Chase Bank’s Chicago legal department. CCH attorneys focus their advocacy on serving homeless students and youth, and the Chase legal department mobilizes Chase volunteers as well as generous grant support from the JPMorgan Chase Foundation. 

“I just think it’s really important for people to know what their children’s rights are. For example, many people don’t realize it’s the school districts’ responsibility to arrange transportation to get kids to school,” said Mary Beth Lopinski, a Chase volunteer since the program began four years ago.

“Education is so essential to success, but poor and low-income children often do not have access to it. Giving children access to quality education goes a long way in producing more productive people,” said Sharlita M. Davis, a Chase assistant vice president and contract office who serves as Chase’s Austin outreach coordinator.

Sharlita Davis helped with a home outreach team.

Ms. Davis, also a CCH Board member, is passionate about the outreach effort. “I love this project because I see how it helps people. Unlike other projects, I can see the impact it has on people,” she explained.

Outreach days are run throughout the school year, with a larger-scale effort before classes resume in September. Last year the campaign distributed more than 17,000 pieces that explain the educational rights of homeless students, the availability of school fee waivers for no- or low-income or unstably housed students, and how to apply to have school fees waived.

Thursday’s effort reached 31 West Side businesses and institutions and 2,550 homes. It included a visit to each of the 17 Track E schools, already in session, to meet with each public school’s homeless liaison and provide them with materials. Meanwhile, five Loyola University law students assisted with outreach on Wednesday.

Youth attorney Beth Cunningham’s mobile legal aid clinic was stationed in Austin to handle legal inquiries by outreach teams. In FY 2012, 90% of Law Project clients were homeless students or youth from Chicago and the suburbs.

Law Project Director Rene Heybach with Cynthia Ford-Wilson, a Lewis School parent volunteer.

“People were very receptive to the information we’re providing,” CCH volunteer Wendy Owen said, after speaking extensively with a guard at a Chicago Avenue strip mall. “People in this neighborhood are very open to whatever services people have to offer.”

Last school year, the Chicago Public Schools identified a record 17,255 homeless students, a 10.7% increase from the prior year’s record. The Track R schools reopen on Tuesday, Sept. 4.

– Article by Claire Sloss, Development

– Photos by Betsy Neely