It’s that time of year again – back to school. For most San Diego kids, it marks a time for new school clothes, shoes, backpacks, a fresh set of school supplies and a chance to reconnect with old buddies and meet some new ones. But for homeless kids, starting school comes with a whole set of uncertainty and stressors. Besides the tattered clothes, and shoes that may be too big or too small, most homeless kids don’t show up to school until the first grade. This puts them almost three years behind the other kids, who were able to attend preschool, or have a stable enough home address to last through Kindergarten.
Three years behind when they start 1st grade. Then, assuming they are able to keep a consistent home address and stay in the school, they are still behind when they move on to 2nd grade. And so the cycle of homelessness is already starting. They are not given a fair chance from the start.
That’s why our Children’s First Initiative is so important to our community. And with community support, we hope to further expand many of the programs here – such as doubling the size of our licensed Preschool by the end of the year. By expanding our Children’s Center Preschool, we will be available not only to children in our WCC, our yearlong recovery program for women and women with children, Transitional Housing Program, but also those staying in our Nueva Vida Haven Emergency Overnight Shelter.
Since we opened our Children’s Center just 2 years ago, I am touched by how many people have taken the care and interest in making San Diego Rescue Mission a stable and caring home for the children. It was only 24 months ago, when most of the toddlers who would come to us, already had rotting teeth from all the sugar drinks their mothers fed them. They had no interest in eating vegetables or even a piece of fruit. The men in our Residential Recovery Program, who were working in the kitchen, saw the unhealthy eating patterns of the kids (and mothers) and set out to make a difference. The men started by making animals out of fruit – first a bird out of cantaloupe balls, and then a watermelon whale … then moved on to making the veggies fun! Suddenly, the kids started to eat. The same kids, who wouldn’t touch a piece of fruit or vegetable 24 months ago, were now enjoying a healthy diet.
As we move into this new school year, with high hopes and expectations, I want to thank everyone who has supported us these past couple years and beyond to make this happen. But our work doesn’t stop here. My goal is to expand our educational services to help even more kids in San Diego. In fact, my goal is to double the size of our Children’s Center. This means we are seeking money and support to rehab our space to include 1600 square feet of classrooms, and acquire more educational tools (tablets, textbooks, art supplies). Most importantly, we need to add to our amazing Preschool staff so we can maintain the effective ratio of 4:1 student : teacher ratio! And each year, we want to continue to provide even more homeless kids with new clothes, sneakers, and backpacks full of fresh school supplies. Let’s work together to help all of San Diego’s children feel safe, secure and confident as they start the new school year.
We are grateful for your generous support of our children.