On most nights, local leaders go home to hot dinners and warm beds.

But on the night of Nov. 21, as the temperature dipped into the low 40s, local political and business leaders traded in their creature comforts to raise awareness and funds for homeless children at Covenant House D.C. in Northeast Washington.

Bundled into warm sweaters, jackets, wearing hats and gloves to help ward off the chill, dozens of men and women gathered at the event took part in a candlelight vigil on behalf of the city’s homeless youth, before crawling into sleeping bags, cardboard boxes and blankets, just as hundreds of young people do each night.

For those who could not fight the chill overnight, the vigil gave them the opportunity to hear the stories of the youth serviced by Covenant House, which provides counseling, crisis intervention, work training and other help to homeless youth.

“All you have to do is look around at the young people, and you will know why we are here tonight,” said Cellerino C. Bernardino, the chair of the board of directors of Covenant House, in his speech to welcome the visitors. He was among those who slept outside with the executives.

D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray, the first executive director of Covenant House, said he appreciated the continuing commitment of the agency to the city’s homeless young people.

“Covenant House is not only all over the country, but really all over the world,” he said. “They all had the same mission, and that was to do everything possible to make sure that young people ages 16 to 21 had a chance to be able to live the kind of life that they would like to live.”

The event drew twice as many people as last year, and raised nearly $150,000. Those funds will support Covenant House’s mission to provide a safe place, nourishing meals and clean clothes to D.C.’s homeless youths.

“We wanted to have representation from all facets of the community,” said Alexis Lindsay, spokeswoman for the agency. “Our goal is to show the homeless youth that we serve and also the homeless youth around the world and in the country that they count, they have a voice and people care about them.”

Donte Davis found himself living at Covenant House after he left home because he and his mother were disagreeing. Davis lived as a homeless youth for almost two years, before his high school advisor told him about Covenant House.

The agency’s workers are “a second family to me,” said Davis, who was able to move after nine months, the longest time that any youth has lived there.

“Covenant House has taught me that there are actually people who care and they would like to help if they could, as long as I can tell them my story,” he said. Davis is currently a student at Bowie University where he is studying bioengineering.

Grammy-nominated singer Carolyn Malachi was among the group of people who attended the candlelight vigil. She performed a selection called, “Look at What I Did With Nothing.”

“Youth homelessness is one that has been of concern,” she said.

“Recently, I just keep hearing the subject talked about so much and its letting me know that this is a real issue. It is something that people’s attention needs to be drawn to.”

Lindsay says after the night, she hopes the executives who attended would not forget this experience.

“The next time they encounter a homeless youth, they will have a different sensitivity and they will be compelled to action,” she said.

Maria Adebola

Special to the AFRO