On Friday November 2, Isidore Newman School’s ACTIONS committee hosted their first ever Sleep-Out with Covenant House New Orleans.
Over 20 Upper School students and faculty members participated in the Sleep-Out after the football game on that Friday. The goal was to spend a night sleeping on the street, so homeless kids don’t have to.
The Sleep-Out is not about pretending to be homeless. It’s an act of solidarity with the 4.2 million young people who experience homelessness each year.
For the month prior, participants put up cardboard boxes – which would they would eventually sleep on – along the Lemle classroom hallway to market the event and encourage donations via their individual pages on Newman’s donation page
. As donations were received, participants wrote names of supporters on their cardboards. ACTIONS also brought in and hosted an assembly for the Upper School about the Sleep-Out , followed by another assembly the Wednesday after Thanksgiving.
At the beginning of the night, Jim Kelly, director of Covenant House New Orleans, and his colleagues Rich Arnold and Palmer Mills came to discuss with the students what they would see in the documentary Shelter
, which follows Covenant House’s former and current staff and residents as the residents struggle with abuse, addiction, and homelessness.
After watching the documentary, students spoke with Jim about residents who have left an impression on him over his 20-plus years at Covenant House and watched the stories of residents after the documentary was produced to find out how their lives changed or stayed the same. Participants broke into small groups to discuss the effects the video had on them and how Newman’s community should help in the future.
Ellie Adler ’21 realized how similar the teenagers in the video are to her: “We like some of the same music, and we all want to feel like someone cares about us. That is what Covenant House provides to the teenagers that come. They show them that they matter. It made me realize that homelessness is often not their fault; most of the teens were kicked out of homes that no longer wanted them.”
Grayson Worley ’19 said during his group’s discussion: “I didn’t really have any intention of doing the Sleep-Out until Jim came and spoke at Newman. After that assembly, I went and signed up for the Sleep-Out because I thought what he [Jim Kelly] said was really important. The whole thing was such a great experience for me, because I really learned a lot. I didn’t know anything about homelessness or mental health, and after seeing the documentary and talking about it with everyone I realized how important it is. People don’t know enough about mental health and homelessness.”
Art History teacher Alison Bach ’88, who stayed for the discussion, said, “The film helped me understand the degree to which mental illness and the lack of accessible and affordable options for treatment are responsible for so many of the problems that often lead to homelessness. Although it’s not the case that all homeless people are mentally ill, the issue seems to afflict an enormous number of the homeless and/or has created the family circumstances by which kids often find themselves homeless.”
Lainie Pilant ’21 said she realized while watching the film that “they would film near St. Charles – which you don’t realize is so close to me – making it so realistic, and [it shows how] close to home the film is.” She also mentioned, “The Covenant House staff must have a lot of patience and are angels, taking time to volunteer to help others in their community.”
New student Gabriela Perez ’19 said the experience “completely opened my eyes to the reality of homelessness. It made me realize that these kids were not responsible for what had happened to them. It could have easily been me who was born to a mother that would throw her child out over a boyfriend or to drug-addicted parents. So it showed me that because I have been blessed, I need to share my blessings with others. Finally, it showed me how cruel we can be sometimes with homeless people as well and how close to home this issue is.” She added, “It made me want to share more of my blessings with the homeless people and spend time with them, show them my love and support. It also made me look at homeless people different and always offer the benefit of the doubt. Finally, it made me realize that even if I don't have anything to give to the homeless when I encounter them, the least I could do is show them kindness, love, and greet them like I would any other person, rather than looking straight ahead and ignoring their presence.” Sophomore Andres Perez ’19 said, “The event inspired me to want to show love to the homeless. Show them that someone cares.”
Kerrie Finegan ’19, a longtime member of the ACTIONS committee, concluded, “The film definitely changed how I view homeless people on a day-to-day basis. They are just normal people, so I view them now as I would any other person. They are homeless, but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t strike up a conversation with them or just simply say hello when passing by.”
At 2:00 in the morning, all participants went to their cardboard box and went to sleep. In the morning – thanks to Sabrina Pilant ’88 – participants were treated to warm donuts and coffee to wrap up the event. In the morning, sleepers discussed how wet and cold they felt. Zoe Guillen ’20 said, “[I] was so wet and cold it made me just want my bed back.”
Thanks to the hard work of the ACTIONS committee, participants, and their donors, the first Newman Sleep-Out surpassed its fundraising goal and surpassed both Xavier’s and Tulane’s teams. These donations will go towards Covenant House for their facilities and faculty, who selflessly help the youth who pass through their doors. In conjunction with Newman’s January community service goal (Alleviate Hunger and Poverty), students will serve a dinner at Covenant House. The committee is proud and ecstatic with their success and cannot wait for the 2019 Newman Sleep-Out!