Students who help homeless children exhibit their art
April 4, 2016 12:00 AM
High school students hold signs listing statistics about homeless children Sunday as part of the second annual Hope Through Creativity event at the East Liberty Presbyterian Church.
By Linda Wilson Fuoco / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
“In the middle of ninth grade, I became homeless and found out I had a child on the way,” Carlow University sophomore Kenya Brown calmly told a highly attentive audience Sunday that included high school students who volunteer to help homeless children.
“I felt scared and I felt ashamed. It’s hard when you don’t know where you will sleep or what you will eat,” Ms. Brown said. “I became homeless because our house was foreclosed. I was trying to hold it all together because I had three younger siblings who depended on me.”
Her mother suffered from mental health problems, including severe depression, she said.
Ms. Brown was the keynote speaker at the second annual Hope Through Creativity program put on by the Homeless Children’s Education Fund at East Liberty Presbyterian Church on South Highland Avenue. Sixteen student volunteers from 12 high schools in Pittsburgh and the suburbs exhibited their art and performed — with homelessness as the theme.
On display were videos, photographs and drawings created by the student volunteers, known as HCEF Ambassadors. Some sang, danced or read poetry on stage.
The purpose of the event, attended by about 50 people, was to raise awareness, not to raise funds, said Bill Wolfe, executive director of the Homeless Children’s Education Fund.
“We just found out on Friday that there were more than 3,000 homeless children in Allegheny County in the 2014-15 school year,” Mr. Wolfe said.
Homeless children exist in each of the 43 school districts in Allegheny County.
Some older teenagers are “unaccompanied youth” living on their own, he said. “Thirty percent of them are gay, lesbian or transgender.”
Homeless children generally are not sleeping under bridges or living in the streets, he said. They are “couch surfing” or “doubled up” in the residences of friends, neighbors or relatives.
That’s how it was for Ms. Brown and her family -— for two years. First they stayed with friends, “but they got tired of us and kicked us out,” she said. They stayed for a while with her older sister. They moved in and out at two homeless shelters.
In ninth grade, “when my belly got bigger, school friends started questioning me. I finally told my guidance counselor, who was very helpful,” Ms. Brown said.
She gave birth to a son and raised him while staying in school. In the middle of her junior year in high school, “we got a house,” she said. A year later, she graduated from City Charter High School. At Carlow, she is studying social work with a goal of becoming a high school guidance counselor.
In the fall, she will have a college internship with the Homeless Children’s Education Fund, which is based on Smallman Street in the Strip District.
The nonprofit has seven staff employees and many volunteers, including the students who attended the event Sunday. They volunteer year-round at homeless shelters and at fundraising events.
The ambassadors attend the following high schools: Fox Chapel Area, Pittsburgh CAPA, Winchester Thurston, Oakland Catholic, Mt. Lebanon, Keystone Oaks, Penn Hills, South Fayette, Shady Side Academy, Brashear, Vincentian Academy and Baldwin.
The Homeless Children’s Education Fund efforts include providing learning centers in homeless shelters, working with after-school and summer programs, and providing mini-grants for field trips and educational projects. The organization works with 27 agencies that help the homeless.
For more information: www.homelessfund.org
Linda Wilson Fuoco: email@example.com or 412-263-1953.
To report inappropriate comments, abuse and/or repeat offenders, please send an email to
firstname.lastname@example.org and include a link to the article and a copy of the comment. Your report will be reviewed in a timely manner.