In Jan., Heartwood Church will hold a special “Back to School” party for many of the homeless children in our community who will be returning to school after the winter holidays. As part of the event they will each receive a new backpack with clothing and personal hygiene supplies. The funds for this important project are being made possible by a $2,500 grant Heartwood received from the Rohnert Park Foundation small grants program.
The catalyst for the idea to help the homeless children in our community came when Andy Springer, pastor of Heartwood Church, attended a meeting regarding homelessness. He, along with other churches in the community, later presented a proposal to the City of Rohnert Park of how they could help with this issue. It was at that meeting that someone suggested to Springer to consider the children in our local schools that are experiencing homelessness.
“To be honest, before that I hadn’t thought about it, or considered the idea,” says Springer. “I realized there are a bunch of [homeless] kids in our schools and was alerted to the need. I decided I was going to do something. I thought a simple opportunity to connect with them and let them know that someone cares about them would be through a backpack. My idea was that those backpacks would be recycled, meaning that whatever supplies we provided now could be perpetuated if they return the backpacks and needed more socks, more clothes, or shoes, or whatever. We could be a part of that kid’s life going forward, making sure they realize they’re not alone.”
While the exact number of homeless children in our community fluctuates, at the time of Springer’s meeting in Sept., there were about 20 children in the Rohnert Park Cotati Unified School District that identified as being homeless, and another 30 children involved in the foster care system. Heartwood Church decided to bring support to both groups.
“We know that a lot of the kids who graduate out of the foster care system, about 60 percent, wind up in places they wish they weren’t,” says Springer. “Some kids wind up on the streets or in jail… I want to try to prevent the continued cycle of homelessness, at least in some of these kids.”
Besides just giving the children backpacks filled with necessities, Heartwood partnered with Fundemonium in Rohnert Park. They are planning a party there mid-January where they will pass out the backpacks, along with pizza and hold various activities for the kids, including stuffing their own bears, RC car racing, painting miniature figures and other crafts. Besides the grant money which went to purchasing the backpacks and the supplies to fill them, other businesses have been joining the cause. One business donated 25 bikes. Springer hopes other companies, restaurants, and local businesses will also participate, donating food vouchers, for example, or other coupons.
“These kids need to know that this [the streets] is not an option,” says Springer. “This is not the option that is best for your future if we can prevent it. That’s what’s driving me to get involved with these kids now. When they turn 16, 17 or 18, some run away from home. There are a bunch of us pastors in this town that want to make sure there is a place these kids can run to, so they don’t wind up on the street somewhere.”