The tragedy of Hurricane Katrina served to awaken us to the needs of homeless students. Our response has been to create an organization dedicated to assisting displaced students overcome the myriad of obstacles faced while pursuing an education.
Like so many Austin days, Labor Day 2005 was a beautiful, clear sunny day. Meanwhile the images of destruction and despair we witnessed on television communicated that over the horizon, families in southern Louisiana were in great need of support. Many of us researched ways we could help and felt the occasion required an unusual response. After a few phone calls we became aware that the State of Texas had thrown open the doors to our neighbors and we here in Austin were expected to receive several thousand refugees including over 1,000 school aged children.
Guided by Cathy Requejo and her staff at Austin ISD’s Project Help we immediately assembled to assist the school district to receive, clothe and provide for the basic needs of these families. Three days of shopping, packaging, delivering and coordinating resulted in kids and families being greeted as they stepped off the bus from New Orleans with a customized care package, a classroom assignment and a backpack with all of their required supplies. For many of these kids, that bag of supplies may have been their only worldly possession.
The experience was rewarding for us on many levels and impressed upon us the needs of homeless students. As the dust began to settle, Cathy taught us that kids are not in crises just when hurricanes hit. Even in Austin, hurricanes hit kids every day. And even with the resources of the State of Texas and the Austin Independent School District, Cathy saw critical needs go unmet at critical times. The tragedy is that each unmet need creates another obstacle; the accumulation of these obstacles can prevent these kids from completing their education. Cathy’s view, which after research we agreed with, was that common obstacles could be identified and with the right partner, programs could be developed to address these issues and thereby reduce the dropout driving frictions of homelessness.
The idea is simple, these kids are in special circumstances and need a special response team that can flex to their need without much bureaucracy. The brilliant structure devised by AISD, Project Help and our team is a public private partnership that can create, implement and revise bespoke programs with 100% philanthropic funding and zero cost institutional oversight.
Kids get customized institutional quality solutions while donors achieve incredible efficiency.
We at CapCityKids work with Project Help to design, implement and incubate programs. Once matured we find a long term sponsor to fund the program while we act as a backstop and coordinator to ensure funding and efficiency.
We are extremely proud of our partnership with our sponsors, the Austin Independent School District and The University of Texas at Austin, and are continually amazed that a few concerned citizens can leverage these relationships to effect change and improve the lives of some of the most deserving members of the community, our homeless and at risk students.
Our programs range from the fundamentals of the classroom and field trips to remedial academics on to guiding students through tragedy. Through leveraging our collective resources, CapCityKids is helping kids who just need a little lift over those ever-present hurdles between them and an education. According to metrics gathered by a local non-profit group named HousingWorks Austin, the number of homeless students in Austin ISD is rising sharply. By using district statistics, the non-profit has calculated that the number of students without a permanent address in AISD was 2,642 for the 2014-15 school year. This is an increase of 152 from 2013-2014's figure of 2,490, and a massive leap of 612 from 2012-2013's total of 2,030. This is an issue that as a community we should feel a responsibility towards and offer aid to these essential programs. What started ten years ago as a knee jerk response to a hurricane, has so far lent a helping hand to over 10,000 deserving students.
Our mission is to efficiently and effectively provide high impact services to students facing homelessness.
- The birth of CapCityKids! Over 1,200 backpacks distributed to homeless students displaced from their homes in New Orleans due to the Katrina catastrophe shedding light on a bigger issue in the Austin area.
- In addition to school supplies, CapCityKids begins to fund a variety of necessities including band rental fees, caps and gowns for graduation, and gift cards to cover uniform costs and toiletries for homeless students.
- Collaboration between the Austin Independent School District and CapCityKids is seen as unique and unifies a group of concerned local citizens to a growing need in the community.
- Conversations between CapCityKids and AISD continue to plan and implement programs for which there is a need for in the community.
- First Project Help/CapCityKids Empowerment Academy event launched. Backpacks and school supplies distributed to all students present as well as enrollment information and immunizations on site; over 400 in attendance!
- The University of Texas at Austin, AISD, and CapCityKids partnership formed through collaboration of new pilot program. Licensed Clinical Social Worker Kate Amerson hired to lead team of 8-10 master level Social Work interns each in order to provide assistance for homeless students through services such as counseling, crisis intervention, and linkage to resources.
- Over 50 homeless or at-risk students identified with a learning gap in the area of Math by the Math Specialist at Mathews Elementary. Those students seen on a weekly basis to ensure those gaps are reduced.
- Kate Amerson presented with the Texas Field Instructor of the Year Award sponsored by the Texas Field Educators Consortium whose membership consists of field field program faculty at 54 schools of social work statewide.
- Need identified by key Project Help personnel to provide 70 gift cards to homeless unaccompanied youth during the Holiday season.
- Social Work Interns helped pilot a new AISD initiative in collaboration with the Special Education department. This community-based support group is for grandparents who are raising grandchildren with a disability.
- CapCityKids sponsors over 40 girls to attend the We Are Girls Conference put together by GenAustin. GEN (Girls Empowerment Network) has been a powerful & supportive collaborator with the CapCityKids Social Work Interns providing after school girls' groups at numerous elementary schools.
- CapCityKids responds to Hurricane Harvey and assists families evacuated to Austin, Del Valle and Bastrop with gift cards and full wardrobes.
- Empowerment Academy expands to include homeless and at-risk youth attending the Bastrop Independent School District.