Box City teaches students about homelessness

Pass it Along shows people how it feels


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  • Sparta High School students Grace Sander, Madelyn McEllen, Michaela Bleakley, Kate Fontes, and Mikayla Bivona participated in Box City at Sussex County Community College Friday night. Photos by Laurie Gordon




  • Tyler McGinnis begins building a walk-through tunnel for displaying information about homelessness.




By Laurie Gordon

— From 7 pm on Friday night to 7 am on Saturday morning, the great lawn at Sussex County Community College turned into Box City. The event was an initiative by Pass It Along to educate the community on the realities of homelessness here in Sussex County, and over 80 high school students from across the county slept outside and created a city of boxes. Participants become aware of the homeless population that surrounds them and the many ways that all of us can serve our neighbors in need.

Jaida White attends Wallkill ValleyRegional High School.

“I’m very very excited for Box City tonight,” she said before the event. “A group in our Service Corps had previously taken part in Box City before Pass It Along stopped the event, and loved it so much that they made recreating it their service project. We’ve been doing a lot of research to incorporate in ice breakers and games we have set for tonight.”

White added that the organization GoLEAD did a lot in picking the ice breakers to use, and how to set up registration to make the experience seem as real as possible.

"Through the research, I have learned so much about how society is so quick to judge the homeless and think that they did something wrong to be in their situation when in reality it can be a multitude of reasons that may solely be based on some bad experiences," White said. "It baffles me to see people walk by homeless people and not give them money or food because they are people too, ya know? What baffles me even more is that there are 40,000 homeless vets in our country (a number that has risen since the war)!! These people risk their lives for our country, there is no reason that they should be homeless. They are heroes and should be treated as such.”

“Homelessness is a despicable issue in this country," said Grace Sander, a student at Sparta High School. "We might not be aware of it since we live in beautiful, safe Sparta but homelessness is everywhere and every single person can do something to help, including myself. My inspiration for this project came from all of my friends and it’s sheer desire to spread awareness about homelessness while making a difference at the same time. The statistics that surround homelessness are tremendously heartbreaking and we want to help the cause of bettering those statistics through putting ourselves in those less fortunates shoes while helping them directly through collecting simple items we take for granted such as socks and basic toiletries. To prepare members of Pass it Along have been meeting twice a week for several months and have collected toiletries, children’s toys, perishable food items, and researching the very issue we are trying to support. I’m so proud of all the work we’ve done and even more honored to help those who need it most.”

Zach Anderson, an intern with Pass It Along, graduated from Newton High School and now attends Montclair University. He said, “This project is very important to promoting awareness of homelessness and give students a new prospective as well as tools they can use to help.”

Tyler McGinnis was in charge of building a walk-through tunnel, and he took the job very seriously arriving at the college at 5:30 am on Friday morning to start the work.

“My mom and I were involved with Project Self-Sufficiency and they helped us a lot," McGinnis said. "We got involved with both that organization and with Pass It Along to give back and help others.”

Participants in the Box City experienced homelessness simulations, workshops, and team-building exercises. Workshops included speakers and service projects included toiletry kit assembly and building dog shelter beds for local dog shelters. Workshop facilitators included Bob Jones of Infinite Fire, Tim Farris of GotUCovered and Pass It Along’s leadership programs; Service Corps and GoLEAD. A bread and soup line, donated by Andre's Lakeside Dining, was hosted by Pass It Along’s 2018 Scholar Athletes.

All proceeds from this event will go to Pass It Along and Family Promise; a non-profit organization that serves homeless families in Newton.

About Pass It Along

Pass It Along is a nonprofit organization serving the northern New Jersey counties of Sussex, Morris, Essex and Warren. Since its inception in 2001, Pass It Along has been committed to helping teenagers become confident, resilient and compassionate through self-discovery, volunteerism, and leadership. By participating in the Pass It Along program, teenagers gain strong sense of self, learn about the positive effects of helping others and are equipped to making better decisions. For more information and to view all of the programs offered, please visit <URL destination="http://www.passitalong.org ">www.passitalong.org



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