NewsNov 15, 2018

Child Homelessness Initiative celebrates milestone partnerships and growing impact

Lesley’s groundbreaking initiative helps educators and families develop resilience and manage trauma

Student Lesly Precil in a pink shirt hugs professor Jan Wall in a mustard sweater.
Above: Student Lesly Precil, who is enrolled in the Certificate in Child Homelessness Studies, embraces professor Jan Wall during the celebration in Alumni Hall.

On any given day, you could fill the TD Garden with the number of children experiencing displacement and homelessness in Massachusetts.

Sobering facts like this help drive the work of Lesley’s Child Homelessness Initiative (CHI), which is celebrating its 7th anniversary along with new, critical partnerships that are advancing the important work.

At a gathering in Alumni Hall on Tuesday evening, approximately 50 Child Homelessness Initiative faculty members, partners, students and supporters came together to share the impact of the program and the coursework.

“Today, we’re celebrating this work, sparking more conversation and establishing a rich and robust future,” said Professor of Education Lisa Fiore, director of the Child Homelessness Initiative.

Lisa Fiore in a red and white dress stands and talks face-to-face with Saameh Solaimanim, who is dressed in black
Child Homelessness Initiative Director Lisa Fiore (left) speaks with Child Homelessness instructor Saameh Solaimani.

Boston has the fourth highest population of homeless children in the country. In the most recent 2017 report from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, 11,298 of the people in Massachusetts experiencing homelessness were families with children, noted Dr. Fiore, underscoring the importance of CHI’s work to equip educators and service providers with the tools to assist children.

“When a child feels loved and cared for, that builds resilience. We have decades of research on this,” said Dr. Fiore. “We’re working on how we can help children develop resilience and coping, and how we can help teachers manage the weight of trauma. We don’t always know how to provide ourselves with the care that sustains us in this world, and it’s a tremendous burden to carry when you carry other people’s health and wellbeing in your hands.”

Growing the Child Homelessness Initiative

Founded in 2011 with support from alumna Laurie Schoen ’86 and Victoria Whalen, CHI began raising awareness through conferences, symposia, and a series of podcast resources created with the Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Meanwhile, CHI developed a curriculum based on this foundation, and in 2016, Lesley established a Certificate in Child Homelessness Studies, the first and only certificate of its kind offered in the United States.

Earlier this year, Lesley announced partnerships with Horizons for Homeless Children, an organization that provides high-quality early education and support for parents, and with the Bombas Giving Back program, through which CHI secured over 5,000 pairs of donated socks.

Wendy Kennedy wears a floral dress and speaks at a podium
“We couldn’t continue to do what we do without you," said Horizons for Homeless Children Director of Education Wendy Kennedy.

In September 2018, the first cohort of Horizons staff – 22 participants in all – began CHI classes, taught by Lesley faculty at Horizons for Homeless Children’s Roxbury campus. The classes, which are being funded through grants and philanthropy, focus on everything from critical issues in infancy to parenting resilience.

Wendy Kennedy, director of education at Horizons, said the CHI coursework is providing their teachers with a deeper and richer education as well as the skills to connect with the families they serve.

“This really speaks to what our mission is at Horizons,” Kennedy said to the audience in Alumni Hall. “Our staff come back excited about what they’re doing and learning, and are going back into the classroom and sharing that excitement."

She added, “We couldn’t continue to do what we do without you, so thank you.”

Inspiring our students

CHI has been buoyed by many supporters and community efforts, such as a gift from Lesley’s Class of ’72 that helped print a children’s book about homelessness and an animated video for the program, “Every Child Deserves a Home,” produced by Lesley students Jessica Brown, Sean Dimarco, Rachel Donnelly and Assistant Professor Michael Annear as part of a seminar class.

Above: Lesley students created "Every Child Deserves a Home." 

“The most beautiful part of the work is establishing relationships,” Dr. Fiore reflected. “It is hard work with few resources, but it’s empowering because you can see how much people care about the world.”

For Lesley students, such as Lesly Precil, who are enrolled in the five-course Certificate in Child Homelessness Studies, the program has already been life changing. Precil recalled his experiences living through the catastrophic 2010 earthquake in Haiti, and how the CHI coursework and faculty have shaped his plans to open a mobile music school for children in Haiti that will ease the anxiety of living through poverty and natural disasters and build resilience.

“I learned so much from both classes I had (so far),” Precil told the audience. “I get the chance to learn the concepts and a chance to learn strategies that I should apply to help people. I learned all that right here.”

“This class enlightened me. It opened my eyes,” reflected graffiti artist and youth counselor Michael Rivera. A student in our Center for the Adult Learner, Rivera has used art to engage children who have experienced trauma and other challenges.

Lesly Precil in a red shirt and Michael Rivera in a black shirt pose and smile together.
Students Lesly Precil (left) and Michael Rivera spoke about the impact of the Child Homelessness Studies program.

At the close of the event, Dr. Fiore called on everyone in the audience to continue to help build the critical partnerships that will break the cycle of poverty, violence and trauma that are intertwined with displacement and child homelessness.

“I know we’re the best at forming connections with people,” said Dr. Fiore. “Together, we make our work stronger.”

See more photos from the event here.