Orange County Public Schools identified 3,241 homeless students as of Thanksgiving. The true number of homeless students could reach more than 10,000 because it’s difficult to get an accurate count due to the stigma associated with being “homeless”, according to OCPS. Visit homeless.ocps.net for information on how you can help.
Homeless students in Winter Park/Maitland as of November:
Killarney Elementary: 85
Lakemont Elementary: 30
Lake Sybelia Elementary: 22
Winter Park 9th grade: 19
Hungerford Elementary: 18
Winter Park High: 16
Brookshire Elementary: 14
Maitland Middle: 10
Dommerich Elementary: 5
Aloma Elementary: 3
Aloma Charter: 3
A month ago, Alison Mosley heard that some of the cars picking up Dommerich Elementary School students weren’t just their rides home; the cars were their home.
“I didn’t know anything about it,” Mosley said about her eye-opening first glimpse at poverty in her neighborhood. “I said, ‘gosh I live at Dommerich.’”
Mosley discovered an invisible subculture of poverty. Families still sent their kids to school, even if they had to move out of their homes. But there were no new clothes, no new books. Food was something that was more plentiful at school than at home. And when families needed to find a place to sleep, they were doing it in secret.
“It seems to me families aren’t really going to homeless shelters,” Mosley said. “They end up staying with friends, family, people at the school. And when they do get to the money, they stay at hotels. Some live in cars, and they’re the hardest ones to track because they move around.”
Want to donate to Dommerich’s needy families? Contact Jessica Fratrik, homeless coordinator at Dommerich Elementary, at 407-623-1407 extension 2279 or [email protected]
That’s not something she could live with, she said.
Mosley worked quickly after that moment a month ago, taking a crash course in how to start her own fundraiser. The goal would be simple: raise money for food, clothing, books and necessities for needy Dommerich families, and then distribute it evenly to all of them.
Jessica Fratrik, school homeless coordinator at Dommerich Elementary, would help turn the money into food, clothes and gifts, helping organize the donation drive for the needy families already in place at the school. She had already been raising funds for 27 families since the beginning of November.
“It was kind of a mad rush near the end,” Fratrik said, because the amount of needy families doubled in size. “This is the first year that it’s been this big because the need is so great.”
With a plan in place, Mosley went to work. She scouted a venue, partnering with friend Sandy Bonus to hold the event at her business. A week and a half ago, Mosley sent out her first email about the event she was organizing to help Dommerich’s down-and-out. The pair thought that even if neighbors didn’t have children, they’d still want to help.
“I don’t have any children there, and neither does Alison,” Bonus said. “It’s just about helping.”
Friends jumped on board, offering to bring food and drinks, while others spread the short notice as quickly as they could. Monday night, the event packed Bonus’ Swoope Studios art gallery and raised nearly $3,000.
If that short timeline seems unusual, Mosley feels the same way. She’d never organized a fundraiser before. She had no idea if the idea would catch on.
“I was thinking if I can’t get people attached to the school that’s a block from their house, then something’s very wrong,” she said.
The Dec. 12 “Ladies Night Out” that packed Maitland’s Swoope Studios started things off with a bang. In three hours of food, drink, socializing and music from guitarist John Valeri, the pair of organizers pulled 60 donors through the door of Bonus’ eclectic studio and gallery. The wine flowed, and so did donations.
Visit the links below to see the recent “60 Minutes” story on the challenges of homeless children in Central Florida schools:
Hard Times Generation (Nov. 27): tinyurl.com/ochomeless60
Hard Times Generation (March 6): tinyurl.com/ochomeless60update
“There’s still money coming in,” Bonus said. “It’s all coming in from local ladies who want to support the needy. They’re just stepping up and helping.”
Now she and Bonus are already setting up three more. And there’s no going back to the drawing board after the success of the first event, though they wanted to open the next fundraiser to the public rather than making it just a ladies’ night.
“We called it a ladies’ night out because we wanted to have it simple, but we’re happy to have spouses, men,” Mosley said. “Maybe we’ll do one ladies night out a year, but the others keep it open ended.”
Three events are already planned, for the second Monday of April, August and December, all with the same goal.
“Hopefully from this good idea a lot of children will find some clothes, books, food, just to get them going,” Bonus said.
Here's a list of online schools that students can attend from afar: www.onlineschools.org/guides/