Hyla students lend hand to homeless

Hyla Middle School’s study of homelessness was only supposed to be a three-day, mini-unit in December. But one group of students has taken it farther than anyone expected.

The group’s four-month project will culminate this Sunday, with a fundraiser at the Lynwood Theatre to benefit Housing Resources Board’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program.

It began with a mini-unit unit taught as part of Hyla’s annual Youth Activism Summit in December.

A group of students helped out at a Bremerton homeless shelter during a bitterly cold week in December.

“All of us, practically, had some stereotypes about homeless people before we went,” eighth-grader Olivia Marler said.

Those stereotypes quickly vanished at the shelter, as the students mingled with homeless families.

“You couldn’t tell they were homeless just by meeting them,” Sarah Berschinski, also in eighth grade, said.

When snow fell just days later, the group of students who had visited the shelter had a new perspective on their snow day, said sixth grader Emma Covert.

“We all knew that they were in their cars, really cold, and we were here in our nice jackets,” Covert said.

After the mini-unit ended, several students including Berschinski, Covert and Marler decided to continue studying homelessness.

They participated in the 2009 homelessness count, and distributed donations gathered by Blakely Elementary Students and Helpline House. More recently the group has studied housing problems on Bainbridge and realized they could have an impact locally.

After Berschinski saw the film “Where God Left His Shoes,” a documentary about a homeless family in New York City, the idea grew to hold a benefit film screening for HRB. Money raised will be distributed to three local families in danger of becoming homeless, and will help build a playground in the planned Ferncliff neighborhood. Lynwood Theatre donated its space and screen.

“It’s been really clear that this group of students didn’t just want to raise money,” teacher Emily Eigen said. “They want to raise awareness and they want to get people talking about homelessness.”

Hyla Middle School will show the documentary, “Where God Left His Shoes,” noon, April 19 at Lynwood Theatre. Admission is $7 and donations will be accepted. Proceeds benefit HRB’s rental assistance program.

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