While walking through the halls of Virginia Run Elementary with his classmates, Monday afternoon, fifth-grader Curtis Amico explained why he was participating in a fund-raiser.
"It's to help people who don't have homes," he said. "I feel very good because I know I'm helping somebody in need, down the street."
Curtis, 10, was one of 260 students, grades K-6, taking part in the Walk for the Homeless. Each walker contributed $15; of that amount, $5 per student was used to buy them commemorative T-shirts. Each shirt had a picture of smiling children on a red heart in front of a blue house, plus the words, "Be a friend, help the homeless."
The other $10 of each donation went to Western Fairfax Christian Ministries, and the Fannie Mae organization will contribute to WFCM, too, based on how many children participated. WFCM helps local needy families in crisis situations; by enabling them to pay their rent and electric bills, for example, it helps keep a roof over their heads.
WFCM Executive Director Dorothy Fonow walked alongside Virginia Run's students. "I think this is fabulous," she said. "This is a very good and active school that does a lot for the community. In October, the students did a baby-item drive for us."
Before Monday's walk, Karen Dolan, WFCM's director of development, addressed the students during an assembly. She told them how it's possible to work hard and still not have enough money on which to live. She then handed out envelopes of play money.
"We talked about important needs, such as food, utilities, transportation, clothing and rent, plus the cost of basic monthly expenses for a family," she said. "And just like in the real world, some of the children didn't have enough money in their envelopes for all their expenses."
Dolan said two reasons for homelessness are the lack of affordable housing and the gap between some people's salaries and their rent. She also spoke about the demographics of homelessness.
"In any given year, some 20,000 people experience homelessness in the Washington Metropolitan area, and almost half are in the suburbs," she said. "Of the 3 million homeless in the U.S, there are more than 1 million homeless children." Another statistic also hit home with the students: "I told them the average age of a homeless person is 9 — so it could be them."
Then the children did warming-up exercises, such as stretching and jumping jacks, to music in the gym before heading down the hallways with their teachers. Even some parents and younger siblings joined in. Some students who are also members of Girl Scout Troop 1182, did the walk as a troop activity.
Said Jessica Hughes, 10: "All but two of the kids in our troop go to Virginia Run, so our leaders — Faith Kehn, Debi Kupferer and Mary Noble — decided it was a good idea for all of us to do it." Kupferer said the troop does many community-service projects: "I'm proud of my girls. They go from nursing homes to cleaning up trash along bike trails to handing out water during the Turkey Trot."
Her daughter Kelsey, 10, enjoyed the walk. "I think it's a good idea to raise money for a good cause," she said. "And when you get home and think about it, it gives you a good feeling of accomplishment. You know your $15 helps someone."
Fifth-grader Afia Ukor agreed: "It's so we can send the homeless money for food, clothes and shelter." Kirk Dennis, 10, was pleased that "all the money we raise" was for something so important. Anisha Apte, 10, said it was "to help people who can't afford things." She, too, had fun. "I like walking with my friends," she said. "And knowing that we're helping somebody is satisfying."
Fonow said an upcoming walk at Union Mill Elementary will also benefit WFCM. And those participating in the Help the Homeless Walk, Nov. 23, at 9 a.m. in Washington, D.C., may designate WFCM to receive their donations. Register at www.helpthehomelessdc.org; for more information, call WFCM at 703-988-9656.
Dolan praised Virginia Run's walk coordinators, Mary Jane Fick and Kathleen Esposito, for all their hard work. Altogether, the walk raised $3,800 for WFCM. Christine Wardinski, parent of sons in kindergarten and third grade, joined her boys for the walk.
"It's a great way to help out," she said. "We talked about how what they're doing would benefit society. And I think they need to realize there are people out there not as fortunate as they are, and they can do things to help."
Also walking was Virginia Run Principal Terry Hicks. "Over the past month — and all the events leading up to today — I'm more and more proud of the parents, kids and community of Virginia Run and how they pull together whenever it's needed," she said. "I'm proud to be a part of this community." For years, the school's Community Outreach Program has helped those in need, so Monday's walk was a continuation.
"Children need to feel part of a larger community — one that embraces people of all ages, walks of life and levels of income," explained Hicks. "And the only way they become part of that community is to do — they learn to care for others by [actually] doing it. And that's what this is all about, so they can become involved community citizens with a broader view than just their own back door."