The 2016 Women’s Giving Circle Fall Educational Event took place on Monday, Sep. 26, at the Prairie Ridge Early Learning Center. All of the Women's Giving Circle Education Team’s hard work resulted in an extraordinary event: 115 people came to learn about “Homelessness: Its Effects on Children and Families in our Community.”
The presenters were Heidi White, Director of Prairie Ridge Early Learning School; Dani Claesges, ECASD Homeless Coordinator; and Kelly Christianson, Executive Director of Beacon House.
Heidi White explained how the high poverty rates at Prairie Ridge (with 70% of students qualifying for free and reduced lunches) inspired efforts to serve these children through various programs such as the Parent Child Home Program. This intervention program currently serves 40 families; it supports parents and fosters early literacy skills by providing home visits for two years. Prairie Ridge Fight Against Hunger was started in 2013 to make sure students have adequate nutrition. Since then, it has distributed over 57,000 pounds of food. It also provides families with crock pots, ingredient bags, and recipes so families can create their own home-cooked meals, and it offers a summer food program that has distributed over 13,000 pounds of food to 92 families. A hoop house project to get children involved in growing their own food is also being implemented. In order to support this excellent work, Prairie Ridge Fight Against Hunger started a fund with the Eau Claire Public Schools Foundation. Donors can support this fund at any time; online donations can be made via the Prairie Ridge Fight Against Hunger Project Fund page, which can be found at www.ecpsfound.org/funds.
Kelly Christianson was the next to present. She challenged stereotypes of homeless people by pointing out that most of them are actually children ages 7-12. She also pointed out how expenses that would be merely irritating to many people, like car repairs, can be catastrophic to parents who lack access to credit and child care. The new development in Eau Claire, while exciting, is also worsening the problem by resulting in skyrocketing rents. Beacon House serves homeless children by giving them a place to stay while their families work to identify and overcome their obstacles to housing. The average stay lasts about 45 days, and the families almost always have found permanent housing by the time they leave. Beacon House, which is supported by donations and volunteers from more than 20 local congregations, puts its philosophy—“Housing is a right and not a reward—into practice, with life-changing results. For more information about Beacon House and ways to donate, please visit www.beacon-house.org.
Finally, Dani Claesges explained the role of the Eau Claire Area School District’s Homeless Program. Among its other support services, the Homeless Program provides transportation to homeless students, who often have to move frequently, so they can have the stability of going to a single school throughout the academic year. She too challenged stereotypes and debunked the idea that helping homeless families will simply enable them. The Program’s numbers are impressive: Of the families it serves, 75% require services for only one year or less. Another 20% are homeless less than two years. Only 5% are served longer than two years. These statistics are a powerful indication that assistance given to homeless families is a helping hand to help get them back on their feet, not a crutch they’ll depend on indefinitely. If you’d like to support the Homeless Program, you can donate to the Homeless Children and Youth Fund on the Eau Claire Public Schools Foundation website, www.ecpsfound.org/funds.
Before the evening concluded, Women’s Giving Circle Chair Sue McIntyre announced the happy news that in addition to overflowing boxes of donated items, the audience had given a significant amount of money to the three organizations: $440 to Prairie Ridge Fight Against Hunger, $375 to the Homeless Program, and $288 to Beacon House. She also gave an update on the Grants Team’s current work and invited the audience to attend the next Women’s Giving Circle wine social and, if they’re not already part of the Women’s Giving Circle, to consider becoming members. She also thanked everyone who had been so generous and worked so hard to create such a successful event.
Thank you to the presenters, to event sponsors Gordy’s County Market and Sam’s Club, and to the Women’s Giving Circle Education Team for making this eye-opening evening possible!
For more information about the Women's Giving Circle, please visit the Women's Giving Circle page on this website.