Anyone who's seen large groups of people out walking lately in brightly colored orange shirts, might have wondered if they were having a pumpkin celebration. Instead, they had a serious purpose:
They were taking part in the area's Help the Homeless program.
During the last week, four local PTAs sponsored mini-walks at their elementary schools to Help the Homeless. The program is sponsored by the Fannie Mae Foundation and directly supports agencies providing services to those in need.
Recent mini-walks at Bull Run, Greenbriar West, Colin Powell and Virginia Run elementaries will benefit Western Fairfax Christian Ministries (WFCM) which provides emergency financial assistance, food, clothes, transportation, holiday food baskets and school backpacks to those in need.
BULL RUN Elementary held its walk after school Wednesday, Oct. 22, with more than 200 students, parents and staff participating. Walk coordinator Kathy Thilenius planned the event with school counselors Sue Buckley and Dana Doss.
"The students were afforded the opportunity to really help those less fortunate than themselves," said Doss. "The walk far exceeded our expectations in generating donations, particularly because [it] was after school."
Third-grader Michael Thilenius participated because "I thought it was a good thing to do. I could have been home doing something fun, but it was more important to help people instead of playing." Fourth-grader Michaela Reardon added, "The thing I liked best was being with my friends and doing something that will help the homeless people."
BOTH COLIN POWELL and Greenbriar West hosted mini-walks Saturday, Oct. 25. GBW even invited Greenbriar East (GBE) students to join them. Walkers at both schools enjoyed beautiful weather, snacks and a chance to give back to their community.
"It's important to show our kids at a young age that they can help others," said school coordinator Meryl Bisaga. GBW sixth-grader Bob Barry explained, "It felt pretty good [to walk] 'cause I feel sorry for the people who don't have homes."
Conner Schiro, 9, of Colin Powell, said, "Everyone gets to walk and they donated for the homeless." Fifth-grader Toni Rayder participated "because I'm helping people who can't afford to live in a house."
VIRGINIA RUN ELEMENTARY also hosted a mini-walk to Help the Homeless on Oct. 27 after school. More than 200 students participated in the walk, which was moved inside the school because of rainy weather. Mary Jane Fick and Kathleen Esposito have co-chaired the event at Virginia Run for the last two years.
"It's a good learning experience for the children and we think WFCM is a wonderful organization for our community," said Fick. Virginia Run student Allison Laseau, 8, added, "I wish I could have a giant house and invite everyone who's homeless to come live there."
It might be difficult to find a house big enough for all the homeless in Western Fairfax, but the efforts of these students were certainly big enough to make a difference for families in need in the area.
WFCM is working to reach a goal of 1,250 walkers for the Help the Homeless program.
If 1,250 people collect pledges and walk for WFCM at local mini-walks or at the 5K Walk on the National Mall on Nov. 22, WFCM will receive a grant of $25,000 from the Fannie Mae Foundation. To date, close to 600 students and parents have already participated in the local walks.
THE HELP THE HOMELESS program enables non-profit agencies like WFCM to raise funds for the services they provide to those without homes and those at risk of becoming homeless. The goal is to generate awareness about the issues of homelessness and provide funds for organizations supporting those in need.
There are more than 2,000 homeless individuals in Fairfax County — and more than half are children. The average age of a homeless person is 9. Families find themselves without a home for a number of different reasons. Some experience an illness in the family and can't work; others lose their jobs and are unable to pay rent or mortgage; and many simply cannot find affordable housing on their low incomes. The fastest-growing segment of the homeless population is single moms with young children.
ONE MORE LOCAL WALK will be held this Sunday for middle school students and their families. It will take place Sunday, Nov. 2, at 2 p.m., at Centreville United Methodist Church, located on the corner of Route 28 and New Braddock Road. In the event of bad weather, the walk will be held inside the church. Students attending Liberty, Stone, Rocky Run, and Franklin middle schools are invited to attend.
For many students, this is an opportunity to fulfill community service hour requirements and participate in an event that directly benefits families living below the poverty line in their community. Registration forms will be available at the walk.
For questions about the middle school walk on Nov. 2 or the 5K Walk on the National Mall on Nov. 22, call the WFCM office at 703-988-9656. Anyone interested in supporting WFCM but unable to attend the walks may send a donation to WFCM at P.O. Box 500, Centreville, VA 20122.