This summer we had the privilege of participating in an amazing contest from One World Futbol and Multicultural Kid Blogs: rather than giving away a book or a toy to a reader, we were vying for the right to give the gift of play to kids in need!
I was so honored to be one of the lucky winners, thanks to you, my wonderful readers! And as a thank you, I’d like to share with you our trip to donate the special, virtually indestructible soccer ball to the amazing Mustard Seed School for homeless children.
Many homeless children are not enrolled in school because the places their families find to sleep are often not near a child’s school and the family only plans to be there a short time. Sometimes the school needs an address or updated immunizations which homeless families cannot provide.
Mustard Seed School was established in 1989 to help meet the needs of homeless children in the Sacramento area. Not having a stable address means that many school age children do not attend school. Some lack immunization, birth certificates, or other documents; some are deterred by the requirement to provide an address in order to register for school; others are so focused on survival that schooling is a lower priority. Almost all lack a support system and a helping hand. In spite of their situations these children are eager to learn and to be accepted.
This is why a school like the Mustard Seed is so needed. It truly is a haven for children in great need of a safe, inviting place to learn and thrive. The tireless workers, volunteers and donors have gone to great lengths to make the school a fun, cozy place for children. They are concerned with the physical and emotional needs of the children. In addition to providing support to parents (for example, with documents and immunizations needed to enroll their children in regular public schools), they also provide healthy lunches and snacks – even “weekend bags” with food to take home for those that need it! (I was very impressed with their emphasis on healthy food for the kids. This is very clearly outlined in their guidelines for donors).
The Mustard Seed School is designed to be a short-term solution, until the families find housing and the kids can enroll in regular public schools. As a result, their emphasis is less on the academic and more on emotional and social support for the kids. I love that they have a school counselor who comes once a week to help the kids through tools like play therapy.
Yet a school like the Mustard Seed also faces great challenges. At the time of our visit earlier this month, they had 38 students enrolled, from preschool to 8th grade, but they never know from day to day exactly how many children will show up. The children typically only stay about 4-6 weeks before they moved or are transitioned to public school.
The children come from a wide variety of backgrounds, and their education has often been done in fits and starts. Most kids are in shelters, living in motels, or on the streets, so they all have emotional and physical needs crying for attention.
How You Can Help Kids in Need:
Do you have a similar school or institution in your area? A friend from our character building class and I brainstormed with the office manager of Mustard Seed – who kindly took the time to show us around and answer our questions – to come up with these ideas for how we could get involved:
1. Donate supplies. Do a donation drive to provide much needed supplies. Call ahead to find out exactly what their needs are. Often they can send you a list or you can find one on their website. For the Mustard Seed School, for example, their greatest needs were school supplies but also underwear and socks for the kids. They were also excited to receive the One World Futbol!
2. Provide food. The Mustard Seed provides healthy lunches and snacks for up to 40 kids every single day. You could donate lunches for one day, or sign up to do it on a regular basis. And if you can’t do lunches, perhaps you could provide healthy snacks like granola bars and yogurt cups that they can keep in the classrooms or send home with the kids over the weekend.
3. Volunteer in the classroom. The hard-working teachers can always use a helping hand in the classroom – whether it’s assisting with daily tasks or providing tutoring/mentorAlling. Perhaps you have traveled to/lived in another country. Why not come and do a presentation for the kids? Or maybe you could do a fun art project with them!
4. Throw a party! If there were ever kids that needed a party, it is students like those at the Mustard Seed School! A really fun way to make a difference is to provide treats and activities for a holiday party and bring a smile to a little one’s face.
Follow our series Random Acts of Kindness for more ideas for how you and your kids can get involved in your community!