This holiday season immediately follows National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week. It is a national disgrace that in the capital of the world’s richest and most powerful nation, one-in-eight households struggle against hunger.
One-in-twenty households report not having the resources at some point during the previous twelve months to buy food for themselves or their family. And more than one-third of District households with children say they have been unable to afford enough food during the same time period, a worse rate than any other state in the nation.
Homelessness also is a tragic reality for thousands in the nation’s capital. More than 15,000 people are homeless in Washington, D.C. over the course of a typical year. As of January 2013, there were almost 4,000 people– representing nearly 1,000 homeless families– in emergency shelters in the District. And there are more than 1,600 homeless children identified in the District each year—far exceeding the 77 shelter beds nominally reserved for homeless youth by D.C.’s government.
As a provider of public education in some of the city’s most underserved communities—through the public charter school which I founded and lead—I am all too familiar with the dangers and reality of homelessness and hunger for urban youth.
At Friendship Public Charter School, we aim to provide children from our most disadvantaged neighborhoods with the high-quality, college preparatory public education they need to enter and graduate college and contribute to their communities. We work to provide the nearly 4,000 students at our six tuition-free public charter school campuses the educational opportunities and emotional and mentoring supports that are regularly available to their peers who attend suburban public, magnet or private schools. We aim to do this for all of our children, including those facing homelessness and hunger.
Our Friendship Collegiate Academy, located in D.C.’s Ward Seven, has a 95-percent on-time high school graduation rate. The rate for D.C. Public Schools’ high schools run by the city is 56 percent. The averages for Maryland and Virginia—with all of their advantages compared to Ward Seven—are 83 and 82 percent, respectively. High-school graduation is essential for college acceptance. And 100 percent of our graduating class is accepted to college. Our graduates have earned nearly $40 million in college scholarships.
Before founding Friendship Public Charter School, I was executive director of Friendship House, which provided employment training and social services to adults and high school dropouts. It inspired me to found our school because I could see that their children wewere able to access a high-quality public education. We can conquer homelessness and hunger one child at a time.
Donald Hense is chairman and founder of Friendship Public Charter School.re destined also to become our clients—unless they My Take is a social commentary feature that allows AFRO readers to share their insight into a range of topics. Please submit your 250-450 word entries, with My Take typed into the subject field, to firstname.lastname@example.org. Include your name, age, occupation and daytime phone number. The AFRO reserves the right to edit or reject any entry.