Students at Glenwood Middle School recently learned how close to home need can hit in Howard County, and what they can do to help.
As part of the school's service learning project, sixth-graders have spent the year learning about homelessness. They put what they learned to good use last month when a group of 10 students helped deliver 20 boxes of food and more than $1,000 to the Grassroots Crisis Intervention Center in Columbia.
Glenwood guidance counselor Kelli Brandt said students have been preparing for the trip to Grassroots for some time, spending most of the year brainstorming ways to raise funds. A Change Matters campaign, where students collected loose change in homerooms, netted $975. A Hat Day fundraiser brought in money for gift cards, and students brought in food from their pantries at home — cereal, peanut butter, granola bars, fruit cups — to create "motel boxes" for Grassroots.
When Grassroots can't accommodate people in its shelter, said business manager Anna Katz, they're housed in motels across the county. They're given the boxes filled with food to feed them for a few days until they can get to a grocery store. Glenwood students also donated $180 in grocery store gift cards for the motel boxes.
Students delivered the donations Feb. 20 and then received a tour of the facility. When they returned to Glenwood, the students gave their own presentations on what they had learned to classmates.
"It's a great way to teach each other through their own experiences," Brandt said. "It's important, with service learning, that it's individualized, that each student sees the benefits of what they did."
Especially in the rural, western part of the county, Brandt said, students aren't always aware of homelessness as an issue in Howard County. Homelessness here, she said, looks a little different than it does in urban areas, so while students may not see panhandlers on the street, those in need are still closer than they may realize.
"We're trying to get our kids to not think of homelessness as people asking for change, but people in multiple-family dwellings, or at Grassroots," Brandt said. "We're trying to get them to understand that anyone can become homeless because of a lost job, the economy, a sickness. We're trying to make it more real to them."
The students, Brandt said, have an "innate ability to be compassionate." They just need to find a way to put that compassion into action.
"With service learning, they see the issues that are in their own backyard and they can relate to it, locally," she said. "I think kids at this age really want to help, and they want be able to relate it to their own life somehow. When we get on a bus and drive 10-15 miles down the road to Grassroots, they know how close it is and it makes it more meaningful for them."
Katz said that in fiscal year 2014, Howard County middle schools so far have donated about $11,000 to Grassroots as part of students' service learning. It's a "wonderful" asset to Grassroots, she said, and Grassroots is in turn able to share their work with students.
"It's important for kids to learn about this," she said. "They need to know that there are people in need in Howard County. This is a first step for them into philanthropy, and learning that even a handful of change or a box of cereal can help. Small things can be done to help other people."