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    Children’s Poems and Essays on My Home and Homelessness
    photoThe collection of children’s poems and essays is both heartwarming and poignant. The collection conveys the caring and love that our Loudoun school children have for their fellow neighbors. It is GSA’s hope that this book produces an outpouring of love and generosity from the entire community. Melissa Quinones, a senior at Loudoun County High School designed the poem and essay book cover.
    At a Good Shepherd Alliance (GSA) Youth Committee meeting in November 2010, Executive Director Vickie Koth offered up a unique idea for a charity event. Vickie thought the Youth Committee might consider the publication of a Children’s Poetry and Essay book with submissions made by Loudoun County students.

    Last year's student board members and Youth Committee already had fund raising events planned at high schools throughout Loudoun County so they passed on the idea. Youth Director Steve D’Argenio brought up the idea again in the fall of 2011 to Student Board Directors Nicole Levinson (Loudoun County) and Samuel Moore-Sobel (Stone Bridge) who were enthusiastic about pursuing it with the Youth Committee. The committee ultimately decided to collect poems or essays about "what home" or "homeless" means. Submittals were limited to elementary students from 3rd to 5th grade. Drawings by the children were also collected.

    As one of the richest counties in the country, it is easy to assume that Loudoun's youth all have permanent homes and stable lives. Yet recently 658 young students were identified as homeless or precariously housed by Loudoun County Public Schools. Many of these young people do not have a guardian or parent in their lives. They sleep in with relatives or “couch surf” among their friends. The GSA housed 62 homeless children last year, but recognizes through our counseling and outreach services that hundreds of children in Loudoun County are living in unstable situations that could lead to homelessness. GSA currently operates four homeless facilities housing forty people on any given night. The non-profit's outreach and resources and referral programs help prevent homelessness by providing stop-gap services for financially struggling families.

    Nicole and Sam believed that the thoughts and views of school children are rarely taken seriously or into account. The GSA Youth Committee was determined to change that paradigm by publishing a poetry book written by elementary school children. Sam obtained the corporate sponsors and Nicole had a friend, Melissa Quinones, a senior at Loudoun County High School design the poem and essay book cover. It is Sam and Nicole’s intention for these amazing poems and essays to be disseminated to the media, government, churches, business, civic organizations, schools and the resident community in an effort to soften hearts that many more will reach out to help our local neighbors in need.

    The Youth Committee collected a total of 426 essays and poems from ten different elementary schools in Loudoun County on what “home” or “homeless” means to each student. The book is titled From Our Heart to Your Home. Some children focused more on their fears of homelessness, while others focused on what having a home, parents and family means to them. The poems are really quite touching and evocative. They tell a story only a child could compose.

    Included in the book is a section on how the community can help. It identifies the GSA mission and how folks can donate and assist GSA homeless services and programs. The minimum donation of $22.00 covers only the book printing cost. Any gift amount over the $22 would help support the GSA Emergency and Transitional housing programs.

    The GSA Youth Committee desires to bring a huge awareness to the community about homelessness and also raise needed funds for GSA. The book is expected to be published in January 2012 and will be sold in the GSA thrift stores and at numerous GSA Youth Committee events. For more information regarding obtaining a copy of the book, contact Executive Director Vickie Koth at 703-724-1555 or visit http://www.goodshepherdalliance.org.

    The GSA would like to thank Loudoun County Public Schools for their support in the creation of From Our Heart to Your Home. Special thanks is given to all of the 3rd, 4th and 5th graders and their parents for submitting the children’s poems and essays on “what my home and homelessness means to me.”

    For more information regarding The GSA Youth Committee, visit http://www.facebook.com/#!/groups/220460521319679/.

    To learn more about how your school can partner with the GSA Youth Committee; Contact GSA Board Member and Youth Director Steven D’Argenio at 703-989-0140 or .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or GSA Vice Chair Bob Ohneiser at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

    photoGSA Student Board Directors Nicole Levinson and Samuel Moore-Sobel promoted and participated in the September 19, 2011 "Walk for Shelter" through historic Leesburg. Later both were enthusiastic about pursuing a school children's book of poems and essays as a charitable fundraising effort. Together the GSA Youth Committee established criteria for the book, found sponsors and solicited the cover page artwork. The result is a collection of 426 essays and poems from ten different elementary schools about the meaning of “home” and “homelessness.” Photo is courtesy/ Lisa Gunderman.
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