Students make a difference with annual homeless walk -- Gazette.Net







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Greyson Hayes, 11, of Damascus knows that some people in Montgomery County have no place to sleep at night.

The Damascus Elementary School fifth-grader said he often sees some of those people on the streets of Germantown.

“It makes my heart sink [to see them],” he said. “I feel bad that I have a bed and they don’t. ... I hope to help the homeless.”

Greyson and his classmates got their chance to make a difference for the county’s homeless population on Oct. 10, when the elementary school held its sixth annual Help the Homeless Mini-Walk for the benefit of the Montgomery County Coalition for the Homeless.

The coalition is a nonprofit that provides support services for people who are homeless; its programs serve about 1,600 men, women and children each year.

Approximately 300 students ran, jogged and skipped around the school’s blacktop to raise money for the coalition and to raise awareness of the problem of homelessness in the county.

The walk “helps the students understand where they fit in terms of their community,” said Delyza Howard, a guidance counselor at the school. “And it raises awareness that, even at their age, they can make a difference. ... It really hits home with the kids.”

Savanna Branham, 10, a fifth-grader and a member of the school’s student government association, helped to organize the walk with other members of the student government.

This year was the second in which Savanna has helped with the event.

“I think the walk is a great accomplishment,” Savanna said. “It just makes people think about how thankful and grateful we have to be.”

Damascus Elementary School donated more than $1,500 to the coalition in 2011 through the walk. This year, students raised $875.

Last year, 1,132 people in the county were found to be literally homeless — meaning that they were living in unsheltered areas or in emergency housing — according to the Point-In-Time survey, an annual report on homelessness in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area undertaken by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments’ Homeless Services Planning and Coordinating Committee.

Prior to the walk, representatives of the Montgomery County Coalition for the Homeless came to the school to educate students about the homeless. Students participated in activities that included kindergarten classes reading a story about what it’s like to be homeless and fourth-graders writing to local politicians about the problem in the county.

“I think we made a difference and learned a lot,” said Tommy Tippett, 9, a fourth grader.

The walk was one of several that occurred across the county to raise money for the coalition.

The nonprofit can qualify for $25,000 in additional funding from the Fannie Mae Foundation if 3,000 registered people participate in a homeless walk for its benefit, said Diane Aten, the group’s director of development and communication.

“So [the students] are helping us reach our goal,” she said.

All three Montgomery College campuses are planning to host walks this month, including the Germantown campus, at 20200 Observation Dr., which will host its walk from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Oct. 25.

“We will have more than 25 walks this year to reach our goal,” Aten said.