buildOn Students Empower Homeless Children Through Culture Club
buildOn Philadelphia region students are changing lives of children living in poverty. buildOn members from Upper Darby High School, West Philadelphia High School and our citywide program volunteered at Jane Addams Place, a temporary shelter for mothers and children.
The group led a program there called Culture Club. Volunteers picked a country and then facilitated activities for the children at the shelter based on a chosen theme. Students often incorporated their own knowledge, based on their culture or experiences. When the group taught the children about Haiti, a student from the country taught the children basic Creole words. When they discussed Malawi, students who built a school with buildOn there shared stories about their trip, and the group made tapestries together.
The club has been an amazing experience for buildOn students, who do the lesson planning, because they’ve been able to establish ongoing relationships with the children. During spring break, students organized a day camp at the shelter for five days, which included games, reading and singing with the children. Being involved with the children of the shelter has given our students a deeper understanding of the issues facing children who live in extreme poverty, ranging from insecurity to a lack of social skills.
“Many of the women at the shelter are victims of domestic abuse. The shelter gives mothers the support they cannot find elsewhere”, says buildOn Coordinator Crystal Collins. The lack of stable housing puts a lot of stress on the children and on the mothers, who struggle to find work and childcare. The families in the shelter were relocated from their original homes, so many of the children still commute to the schools in their previous neighborhoods.
Amanda Millatt, a senior at Science Leadership Academy, says one of the girls at the shelter travels up to an hour and a half to go to school. She was usually more exhausted than her classmates, and had less time to do homework. “The families don’t know where they will be living next, don’t know where they’re going or what their next meal will be,” Amanda said. “Other kids don’t have to worry about these things, so it is harder for the kids at the shelter to stay in school and do well. And because these families are always moving, their state of mind is affected.”
Collins says the children required a lot of attention. “They tended to be less confident than other kids, and some are violent and act out at the school and at the shelter.”
The club activities helped the children by giving them something productive to do, and the volunteers serve as role models for the children. It also provides stability and community for children when they need it most.
After a year of service, the buildOn students proudly completed over 400 hours of service at Jane Addams Place, which is winning buildOn’s Top Service Partner Award this year. Learn more about our service project in the Philadelphia area here.