By Jillian Smith
SOWMA Education Coordinator
What do you do with an hour?
That's one re-run of "Law and Order: SVU." That's how long I sit on the couch and scroll through Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and then back to Instagram, repeat. That's how long it takes me to completely fall asleep in between the thoughts of the day and ticking of my to-do list. It's four times the amount of time it takes me to get a coffee every day. It's two times the amount of time that it takes me to get ready in the morning. When I was a student, one hour felt like an eternity when I was sitting in class but when I was catching up with friends at the dining hall, the hours seemed to fly by.
I work at School on Wheels of Massachusetts, an organization that I discovered while I attended Stonehill College. They asked my classes if anyone could volunteer to be a tutor. The commitment? One hour each week.
SOWMA Executive Director Cheryl Opper with Zachary as he responds to a standing ovation after speaking at the Open the Door Gala
Read Zachary's story as told by the Brockton Enterprise:
Zachary's speech delivered at the Open the Door gala on November 17, 2016
Good evening everyone. First, thank you for being here at such a wonderful event commemorating School on Wheels, an organization that has helped give those in need such great opportunities to succeed in their education. Of course, I myself would be one of those people.
Let me begin by saying homelessness is not something we all imagine so accurately. Many would not imagine a child when hearing the phrase, “homeless person.” However, the situations surrounding this are all too real and serious. One of the most saddening things is that it tends to occur at no fault of the child, in situations they cannot control. That being said, I would like to share my story, my struggles, and my rising prosperity with the audience tonight, with the many opportunities and the support I have gratefully been given.
Ana and Beth take a break at Bridgewater State University.
Ana met Beth eight years ago at School on Wheels during her sophomore year at Brockton High School. Ana had just arrived from Cape Verde speaking only Portuguese. She was homeless, pregnant and overwhelmed.
It was at the Family Life Center in Brockton, a transitional housing site where she was staying with her sister, that Ana met SOWMA tutor Beth. The two began a journey that changed the future of not only this expectant new mom - but her daughter as well.
Pegasystems (Cambridge) has held summer backpack drives since 2004 to help children in need have the tools they need to be ready for school. This year, School on Wheels of Massachusetts was fortunate to be chosen as the recipient of their school supply drive for a second year in a row. For children impacted by homelessness, with so little to call their own, a new backpack is a treasured gift. Pegasystems' generous staff and goodwill allow students who have lost their homes to have the same quality supplies as their peers to start the school year.
More than 100 Pega employees lovingly filled high quality new backpacks with everything our students need to go back to school, including calculators, notebooks, binders, highlighters, new books and a fresh start.
This year we received:
- 178 high quality backpacks filled with high quality school supplies
- 50 state-of-the-art calculators
- Six laptops to help our college students register for classes and complete course assignments
- One kindle for a tutoring site to encourage the love for reading
We are excited to announce that 125 backpacks that Pegasystems donated have been given to Rosie’s place, a women’s and children’s shelter in Boston. “It’s our hope that these donations will help to bring confidence and motivation to the students who receive them,” said Laura Starr-Houghton, who is the Senior Director of Pegasystems.
Turning 10 is a big deal and Erica Parks decided to make a big deal to help others. Instead of the traditional birthday party, Erica celebrated her 10th birthday by asking her dance friends to donate school supplies to School on Wheels and help children impacted by homelessness.
“One of my favorite things about back to school is picking out school supplies and making sure I have everything I need on my list,” said Erica, when asked why she chose to remember us on her birthday. She wanted to make sure that other kids had the same back to school experience. “My dance friends who came to my party were so generous… I was really surprised, even friends who could not make the party dropped by some supplies.” Thank you to Erica and her dance friends for their thoughtful donations to help our kids get ready for the new school year!
“I think it’s sad to see how many kids need the backpacks and supplies, but also so nice that they are getting everything they need… I can’t believe the average age of a homeless person is 8 years old. That’s so close to how old I am.”
Help us reach our goal by coming in to stuff bags for our kids!
SOWMA is in the process of filling 1,300 backpacks for students impacted by homelessness, and we need YOUR help. Volunteer opportunities available: Monday – Thursday 10 am – 12 pm and 2pm –4pm.
If you are unable to volunteer but would still like to help by making a donation, our greatest need right now is high quality new backpacks for kids grades K-12!