Kara, a high school freshman, lives with her parents and two teenage siblings. For many years, her family lived in significant poverty; they had difficulty meeting basic needs, moved frequently, and ultimately, they became homeless. Shortly before Christmas, Kara’s older sister informed a teacher that their family was in need of food, and the teacher connected their family to Communities In Schools.
When I first met with Kara, she told me that her family’s struggles had led her to attendance issues in the past, but her goal was to have perfect attendance for the 2019-2020 school year. After identifying the biggest barriers she faced, I was able to partner with local community organizations to get Kara’s family housed in a local motel.
When I met with Kara’s parents, they spoke with me about budgeting and goal setting. We worked hard to find them acceptance into public housing, but they were repeatedly denied due to a recent eviction. The little income their family did receive was spent quickly to keep them afloat in the motel, and their financial goals felt out of reach. On the day that schools let out due to COVID-19, Kara’s family, unable to pay for their motel room, was informed they had to leave the next day by 11:00 a.m. They had little money, no place to go, and the closest available homeless shelter was in Nashville, where facilities were already at or over capacity, following the recent deadly tornado and COVID-19.
Kara’s family planned to sleep in their car that night, but CIS-TN quickly mobilized. In less than 24 hours, we were able to work with First United Methodist Church to find a rental home for Kara’s family, as well as the funding for the first month’s rent and utilities. Once we had a roof over their heads, I reached out to school personnel and community members, and we were able to provide them with mattresses, beds, small appliances and household items, cleaning supplies and food for the family all in that same day. With this community partnership and assistance in getting a fresh start, Kara’s family is capable of sustaining this housing and are on the road to improving their circumstances more over time.
During the time we were helping Kara’s family get back on their feet, I got to know Kara very well. When I first met her, she barely spoke a word unless she was around a group of friends. She was not completing classwork, she was constantly interrupting class by joking around with others and often ended up receiving an in-school suspension. I began meeting with Kara more individually, discussing character development, asking her about her interests and skills and simply paying attention to her. I wanted Kara to believe in herself, so I told her repeatedly that she had the power to break the cycle of poverty and chaos that had been her reality for most of her life. Slowly but surely, she began to ask if she could stay after-school to help with projects, organize the food pantry and participate in various school groups. Today, she is a different person: she is opening doors for others, showing respect to adults and looking for ways to be helpful.
The youngest of her siblings, I have no doubt that Kara has just been waiting for someone to see her in the midst of this chaotic world. I’d like to think that as much as we have done to help her family find stability over these months, the most important thing that we have done is to help her feel seen.
*Student and coordinator names have been changed to protect their identities.