invisible homeless kids

Hard to imagine that in this country way over 1,700,000 kids are without homes. H-O-M-E-L-E-S-S Kids. I don't get it. Are we willing to discard these kids? Not me. So this blog will relentlessly focus on this issue, hoping to light a spark to fuel a compassion epidemic. Chime in, argue, but do something....

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Forget-Me-Not: Help Homeless Kids Blossom, the Peter Yarrow Inspired Campaign, Round Two

How to make Congress pay attention to homeless kids? With my frustration mounting, I remember driving home, listening to Garden Song, a clever little ditty sung by Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul and Mary. It was 1999, a beautiful spring day. And my pending call from my friend-colleague Barbara Duffield would be our chance to devise a theme for our upcoming unprecedented lobbying of Congress by homeless kids.

The Garden Song haunted me. I could visualize row-by-row, dark soil, rakes, seeds and sprouts of new plants, the hopeful signs of new life (here's a little garden video I did using the song). Barbara and I started talking. I blurted out my garden theme which somehow morphed into Forget Me Not: Help Homeless Kids Blossom. Soon we were begging for thousands of packs of Forget Me Not seeds, generously given and specially labeled by Burpee Seeds.

Over 11,000 packets of Forget Me Not seeds spilled from constituents’ letters onto congressional desks, many bearing heart-felt messages about homeless kids needing education. While in DC, hordes of FMN kids and their chaperones streamed into offices of their congresspersons and asked them why homeless kids couldn’t have rights to go to school. And a massive and poignant assembly featured searing testimony by homeless kids in front of Members of Congress. The combination caused this nation’s million or so homeless students to finally get what every child deserved—the right to a public education.

In 2001, the McKinney-Vento Homeless Education AssistanceAct became law. It resembled almost line-by-line the Illinois Education for Homeless Children Act, better known as Charlie’s Bill, named after Charles, an endearing 4-year-old whose photo (©Pat Van Doren) adorned every piece of literature given to Illinois legislators. My (now-retired) congresswoman, Judy Biggert (IL-13,R), took the lead to get this essential piece of legislation passed, a bill she also supported as a state legislator.

When Peter Yarrow shares his wisdom of word and song on May 8, we’ll be coming full circle except for one thing. It was my (na├»ve) hope that by now Congress would have at least put 2 + 2 together and figured that kids need not only school but also a place to live. Not the case. We’re sliding backwards.  HEAR US is dusting off the Forget Me Not concept, and we’ll ask the audience to contact their Illinois legislators to ask them to reinstate the $3 million taken from homeless kids back in 2008-09, the last time Illinois budgeted for such “frivolous” purposes.

Standing on the stage, Peter Yarrow, social justice champion and folk music icon, will summon the spirit of all civil rights trailblazers of our lifetimes. He’ll light the fire that needs to burn steadily in the hearts of each member of the audience. He’ll plant the seed of justice that will grow beyond the sprouting dreams we had back in 1994 when just getting the kids into school seemed progress.

I’m totally delighted to have my friend, mentor, and champion Peter Yarrow coming to Aurora, IL, the 2nd largest city in Illinois, dubbed by Michael Stoops of the National Coalition for the Homeless  “the Selma of the 90s,” to kick off our next campaign to demand that homeless children and youth a place to call home.

The blight of greed and injustice threatens to destroy the fruits of our nation—our young people choked by poverty and homelessness. Our collective compassion-fueled nurturing of families and youth will require that we get our hands dirty and break a sweat.


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