Sara in the City: Project 150 Takes a Hands on Approach to Helping Homeless Teens

Project150photo

By Sara Gabriella

Contributing Writer

High school is a formative and pivotal time in our lives. As adolescents, we meander through our days in a continual pressure cooker: acceptance from our peers, college applications, SATs, summoning the courage to ask that special crush to prom. We can all remember the cocktail of hormones, insecurity and anticipation that fueled our daily high school reality.

The choices made in those four years influence the options and opportunities that will determine how the future will look.  Will that picture be a bright illustration of financial security, healthy relationships, spiritual and emotional wellness? Will that photo be a drab image of a lack of resources and direction, exacerbated by the bad judgment that results from low self-esteem and an unshakable sense of hopelessness?

An economic downturn fueled record high unemployment in the Las Vegas Valley and bred astronomical home foreclosure rates that, in turn, powered an epidemic of homelessness. The statistical fall-out from this cycle is well documented. What is only now fully coming to light is the effect of all those lost homes on the daily lives of the families in our community.

Thinking back onto your career as a high school student, the highs and lows, triumphs and harsh lessons, it may seem like a rollercoaster of emotional and psychological development. Now enhance that tumultuous ride with the added struggles of hustling your own meals, a couch to crash on for the night, a pair of sneakers for gym, a composition notebook for English class, a backpack, and money to cover college application fees. Things that your classmates take for granted: SAT prep classes, a family trip to scout colleges, an IKEA shopping spree for your future dorm room; are a distant fantasy.

You are focused on sustaining the momentum it takes to reach that finish line to graduation. Needling you in the back of your brain is a harassing awareness that quitting the race before you make it that diploma will ensnare you in this cycle of poverty. An optimistic future waits for you on the other side of that finish line, but to get there you must first endure the ridicule of your peers, the persistent pang of hunger and a nauseating insecurity about your ability to meet your basic needs.

Ready to surrender to your dismal circumstances, Project 150 steps up to bring a “Las Vegas solution to a Las Vegas problem.” Patrick Spargur, Co-founder of Project 150 and long term Las Vegan, was one of the first members of our community to discover the price at-risk students were paying in our harsh economic times. He remembers what a wonderful town this was for him and his friends to grow up in. He and his wife are raising two daughters of their own now. He wants nothing more for his kids, and all those coming of age in our Valley, than to have a chance at as healthy and safe an upbringing as he had. Along with Don Purdue, he established Project 150 to offer students without stable homes the helping hand they need to strive toward productive, hopeful futures.

Some of the unique challenges at-risk high school students face include: being ineligible for school lunches, being left behind when their parents leave the state to find work elsewhere, and having their needs go unmet so limited family funds can cover the necessities of younger siblings. Programs can overlook adolescents since they look more like adults, so people assume them to be less vulnerable than younger children. They are expected to be better able to fend for their own survival. These students smash into a dead end when seeking resources for help, at the time when they are most susceptible to dropping out. Project 150, in coordination with the educators who work in the 12 Las Vegas high schools that it serves, are dedicated to guaranteeing these young students access to their best avenue for lifting themselves out of homelessness and poverty: a high school diploma and college education.

Project 150 launched with a mission to help the 150 students first identified as lacking a stable home. That number is estimated to be in the thousands at present time. Teachers and administers describe the upward trajectory of need for these students and their families over the past few years. The rise is staggering. Project 150 supplies the homeless students of our community and their families with food, school supplies, furniture, clothes, temporary housing, a dress for prom, a cap and gown to wear to graduation, whatever is needed.

In order for our high schools to educate students and prepare them to be positive, civic minded members of our communities; they must address the needs of the entire child. Right now these needs extend beyond academic knowledge and critical reasoning and thinking skills—they encompass the basic elements of survival.

Find out how you can help: http://www.project150lv.org/

Find our video interview with Patrick Spargur (Co-founder of Project 150) and Luanne Wagner (long time educator and head of the “Charger Closet” at Clark County High School): http://youtu.be/K4CFipRPr-E

 

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