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Study Buddies Helps Needy Students around Fairfax Circle

Every Tuesday and Thursday, 13-year-old Jasmine Smith gets her homework and studying done with help of the Lamb Center's Study Buddies.

"I get my homework done and get my studying done. I'm working on my science, I passed all my science tests," she said.

Yonis Ali came to Study Buddies in October. He didn't know any English at that time but quickly learned and started concentrating on math with the help of flash cards and volunteers. He's a third grader at Daniels Run School as well.

"I can read all the books," he said.

Study Buddies is a program for homeless children to come and study with adult volunteers. It is held at the Lamb Center at 3220 Old Lee Highway in Fairfax Circle. Margie Urano is a driving force at the Lamb Center.

"I have lots of volunteers, it's amazing. The Fairfax City school board has been an incredible support," she said.

Lamb Center director Steve Schlossberg knows the impact Study Buddies and the adult volunteers has on the children. "People are always enthusiastic about helping children. When the announcement was made in church, there was a huge response," he said.

Fairfax City resident Claudia Long is one of those volunteers. She comes in on Thursdays and realizes that the instruction is only one part of Study Buddies.

"They get that the world is not the cold, hard place that they've experienced," she said.

<mh>Overwhelming Response

<bt>Study Buddies' opening day was an historical one as well, Sept. 11. Despite other world events that day, the doors on the Lamb Center opened anyway. Urano remembers the decision. They didn't want to leave people at the door.

"Everybody was surprised we actually held Study Buddies," she said.

The first few afternoons of the program, there were almost too many children, most of which were staying in area motels. The Breezeway and Anchorage were two nearby motels that housed some of the families. They had 32 children on their peak day but from September through December, it averaged about 20 children a day.

The Lamb Center is one big room with smaller offices off the hallway. With up to 32 children, some running around, it was noisy. Long remembered the first few days as chaotic.

"We learned early that if you want them to concentrate, they have to use inside voices," she said.

Urano sees the lack of space as one issue as well. She gets offers of donations and additional help but can handle only so many. The school board offered donating some computers.

"We have nowhere to put them. All the offices here and storage areas are full," she said.

The Christ Lutheran Church has donated a van to shuttle the children in the afternoons and offered a bigger room they could use but Urano has not used it thus far because she's afraid people will not be able to find the church and just won't come.

"They trust the Lamb Center," she said.

<mh>Uncertainty

<bt>Since their peak day of 32 children, the dwindling numbers have disappointed Urano. The county's method of getting the families in permanent housing sometimes means shuffling the children around more than once. Some of them end up in Alexandria or Prince William and out of the Fairfax County Public School system so their progress and educational levels get lost in the shuffle. The county's system puts a homeless family in a motel, then interim housing and finally into permanent housing.

"They could go to four schools in one year. I wish they didn't have the interim housing thing," Urano said, remembering a third-grader who couldn't read. Now that family was relocated to permanent housing in Prince William County which is a totally different system and she's lost touch of him.

"He hasn't been in school long enough to get tested. Who knows what they're [Prince William County] going to do," she said.

Ann Goergin is the executive director at the Housing and Community Services of Northern Virginia in Springfield. Although Goergin is not familiar with Study Buddies, she's noticed the difficulty with families in transit.

"It's very difficult for an immediate transition," she said.

Their previous executive director, Joel Friedman, is now the executive director for the Fairfax Partnership for Youth. He knows the transition difficulties as well.

"There's a lot of uncertainty anytime there is uprooting," he said.