"I wasn't going to come today because I didn't think anyone really cared about us." -- Eight-year-old homeless girl.
Words spoken to me by an eight-year-old homeless girl at our Please Mr. President event in Las Vegas last Saturday. We expected six hundred at risk children at the Children Mending Hearts Please Mr. President arts workshop this past Saturday. Over nine hundred showed up.
This was the third stop on our Please Mr. President peace train, a campaign designed to empower at-risk kids across the nation. We quickly discovered during our listening tour that Americans may not currently have cash to donate, but they do have time, they have passion, and they are hungry for change. So, while a teacher may not be able to give a thousand dollars to a homeless shelter, she can tutor kids once a week who are unable to do their homework, or have no home in which to tackle their assignments.
The first busload of kids arrived promptly at Eleven a.m. The kids put the new t-shirts specially designed for them that read "I Am The Voice, Will You Listen". All of the volunteers wore the shirts as well for a very specific reason. Our philosophy is reflected in our choice of uniform: we are all the same, we're only separated by geography and circumstance.
Over three hundred volunteers, team leaders, and team captains awaited, ready to give these kids a day they would likely never forget, and sadly, more likely never experience without intervention. For, the next five hours the kids wrote letters to the President imploring him to pay attention to the reality of America's homeless children -- something with which they were only too familiar. They beautifully painted t-shirts and made scrapbooks for the kids in Haiti who survived the devastating earthquake, many whose environs were brutal even before the disaster. I kept reminding them that even though they may live in a shelter and have holes in their shoes and dirty clothes, that they were making something for their brothers and sisters in another country who didn't so much as have a shelter, had no shoes with or without holes. I kept telling them to go home and tell their mothers, fathers, teachers and friends, that they were not only citizens of the United States, they were citizens of the world and no one would ever be able to take that away from them. You could see the kids change immediately with that possession of information. They smiled, they stood tall, and they felt empowered. And then, they danced with abandon.
At around 12:30 p.m. pizza and a few celebrities arrived. I looked at the children and took in their faces. A few were literally grasping for their hearts, so excited that breathing was becoming a challenge. I kept reminding them that the celebrities -- Raven Symone, Corbin Bleu, Chris Massey and all the others were simply volunteers for this day, and that they, the kids of Las Vegas, were the real stars today. The actors were initially supposed to stop by for an hour, but ended up staying all day.
As the day ended, one of the public school teachers from a school that had lost all art funding told me that half of her students are homeless, and said to me, "Things have been very difficult in our school lately, I've become very jaded. I had forgotten why I became a teacher, you have just reminded me, thank you for helping me hope again." Hope is one thing we cannot afford to lose in this recession. At 4 p.m., the event was over. We packed all our things and were heading home, but we knew that for all of us at Children Mending Hearts, the work was just beginning. We left twenty three team leaders and over three hundred volunteers on the ground. Each team leader signed a yearlong contract with us and was given a list of take-actions from the organizations. They will be spending the next year fostering and empowering these organizations. Most of the organizations are barely surviving. Funding has dried up and they have an almost non-existent volunteer base.
But we must continue to try. That same eight-year-old girl who's words began this story, who thought no one cared about children like her, told me this was the very best day of her life. One child touched. Millions to go.
Our dream is to visit each and every city in this fine country. We want to spotlight and empower every organization serving at-risk children. We can't end homelessness, but we can hopefully ease the burden, even just a little. One day at a time. One child at a time.
Let's get busy!