This year we had a very spooky Halloween at the Sulzbacher Center. The center was decorated with spider webs, pumpkins and howling ghosts. The courtyard was decorated as a graveyard and had a coffin with a skeleton in it. Each kid was given their own pirate or pumpkin trick or treating bag and they got to walk around to each office and pick up candy. This year we had 50 kids who went trick or treating.
The best part about Halloween was that the Sulzbacher center created an atmosphere that was free and safe for the kids to enjoy the evening and receive candy. Jacksonville Legal Aid created amazing Halloween bags filled with candy, games and pencils. Thanks to Dignity U Wear every child had the opportunity to have a costume from babies to age 16. UNF volunteers, the Home Team, and staff all volunteered to make this an unforgettable Halloween. Everyone was really excited to make this a fun night for the kids.
We are so thankful for all the donations of candy that we received because all of the children were able to receive tons of candy. Lucy, an 11-year-old girl staying at the shelter, told me she got two full pillowcases full of candy. “It was really fun being in the haunted elevator with Darth Vader. He jumped up and down to make us feel like the elevator was going to fall”, she said. The children and staff had such a great time and we can’t wait to do it again next year.
When we heard about the company The Giving Key we knew it would be something that we would have to be a part of and share with our teens at the Sulzbacher Center. The Giving Key is a company that uses recycled keys and engraves them with an inspirational word, providing hope and encouragement for the person wearing the necklace. Caitlin Crosby got the idea by wearing an old hotel room key on her necklace realizing that in a way we are all like keys, flawed, unique, scarred and at risk of being discarded. Which in most ways is how the teens and adults staying at the Sulzbacher Center feel. They feel unloved, discarded and have lost hope that they will be able to get back on their feet. We are so fortunate that the Giving Keys were donated to us so that our Transformations honorees could pass along the message of hope, courage and strength.
This year Transformations showcased how education is positively impacting the lives of homeless children and young adults on the First Coast. Even in the face adversity time and time again, we see homeless youth persevere with a little help from the Sulzbacher Center. This year we gave Giving Keys to Eleshia, Reggie and Geraldo. Eleshia was a young mother who was struggling with addiction and trying to care for herself and child. When Eleshia’s son passed away she was lost. She was living on the streets and getting high. “I found my way to the Sulzbacher Center and within a few days they had a spot for me,” says Eleshia. “My life changed for the better from that minute. I’m not saying it’s been easy. There were times when it was hard. But I’ve been moving forward ever since.” Every key in the world is made with a purpose and has a story to tell just like Eleshia’s. Eleshia has been through a lot in her life and her key is a reminder that if she can believe it she can achieve it. We can’t wait to see Eleshia pass on her key to someone else that needs encouragement in a time of crisis.
When I think back to when I applied to college I think of how challenging it was. You have to work hard, get good grades and do well on the SAT. Besides doing well in school you need to financially be able to support yourself through those four years of hard work and dedication. I think about what my parents did for me with their mentorship and their financial support (lots and lots of financial support) and I know I wouldn’t have been able to do it without them. I know that most college students wouldn’t be able to be where they are today with out the support and guidance of their parents. But what about the students who are just as talented and motivated but don’t have the guidance or resources to receive their opportunity of a degree?
Across the country, tens of thousands of underemployed and jobless young people, many with college credits or work histories, are struggling to house themselves in the wake of the recession, which has left workers between the ages of 18 and 24 with the highest unemployment rate of all adults. Most cities that have programs to help homeless individuals do not focus on young adults. The Sulzbacher Center was in the same boat two years ago. Luckily, Cedric Lewis and Joshua Stancliff realized that there was a need to provide teens with an opportunity to see what college is like and set them up with a path to get there. That is when they created the in-sight Program. At first Joshua and Cedric just had the students tour the University of North Florida but then they realized that you couldn’t just show students the campus you have to help them get there.
The in-sight Program provides teenagers and young adults residing at the Center the opportunity to tour local universities, see that higher education is, indeed, a possibility for them. The program also helps the students apply to colleges or universities, apply for financial aid or scholarships, and obtain housing. The name has two meanings. You can let students see that college is in their sight and you can also provide in-sight to let students see what their future could be like with a college education. The Program doesn’t only give the students tours of the campus but it is the everyday pushing, mentoring, coaching, encouraging and debating that is almost acting as a parent to help these students fulfill their dreams.
To learn more about the in-sight Program and hear stories about the two young men who went through the program and had success, join us at Transformations. This year on Tuesday, October 7, Transformations will showcase how education is positively impacting the lives of homeless children and young adults on the First Coast. Even with the deck stacked against them, time and again we see homeless youth beat the odds.
Click hereto purchase general admission tickets for $50 or to become a sponsor.
This past Friday we hosted our annual back-to-school bash for the children living at the Sulzbacher Center. Two activities were planned to get the kids excited about going back to school. The first activity was a back to school clothes shopping trip to Old Navy. With excitement in the air, the first busload of children arrived at Old Navy at 8 a.m. and the second busload of kids arrived at 9:00. Close to 100 children, who receive services from the Sulzbacher Center, got to pick out a new outfit for their first day of school. This is the fifth year in a row we partnered with Old Navy for back to school shopping. The great thing about Old Navy is that they offer very stylish outfits at and affordable price, but they also carry school uniforms. Some, but not all, schools in Duval County require students to wear uniforms.
Not only did the kids get to shop, but they also got to enjoy an evening full of fun before heading back to school. We were afraid that it was going to rain because the clouds had been looming all day. After weeks of planning we did not want to have to cancel our back-to-school party, but as 4 p.m. approached the sky was clear and we were able to let the fun commence. The front of the children’s center was filled with bounce houses, music, ring toss, popcorn, cotton candy, snow cone machines and carnival style games to get the kids pumped up and excited about their return to school. To start the year off on the right foot, each child received a colorful new backpack loaded with brand new school supplies. Each backpack had a child’s name on it and was handpicked by our dedicated children’s program staff based upon the child’s personal preference.
“We want the kids to feel confident and excited about returning to school”, says Maxine Engram the Child Development Program Manager. The kids ran around with their faces painted and their new slap bracelets in hand. The DJ played “I Smile” as the kids and parents sang the words, “It’s so hard to look up when you’ve been down. Sure would hate to see you give up now. You look so much better when you smile, so smile.” At the end of the party dinner was served by Chef Kurt. He cooked up tasty hotdogs, hamburgers and coleslaw. As the evening came to a close it was clear to see how excited the party had made the kids to start back to school on Monday with their new outfit and backpack in tote.
This event wouldn’t be possible without our amazing donors Mitch and Chris Stone, North Jacksonville Baptist Church, Mario Butler Foundation and Roger and Sheila Williams.