Nicole Visits Young Hacks Academy – Mission Briefing: Homeless Solutions

Posted On July 26, 2013 By | 1 Comment on Nicole Visits Young Hacks Academy – Mission Briefing: Homeless Solutions

Getting out into the community and connecting with people who want to learn more about what we do is one of my favorite parts about being the Community Outreach Specialist at COTS. We have a robust Speaker’s Bureau, which means that anyone can reach out to schedule a guest speaker from COTS to talk to their school, business, or community organization.

Members of our Bureau include COTS staff members, seasoned volunteers, advocates, and even former COTS clients. Our presentations are tailored to each group’s needs and generally include a discussion about the causes of homelessness, solutions that we are working towards, and ways that individuals and groups can become involved.

Tom Bacon of Brick Oven Media recently invited me to give a short presentation at the Young Hacks Academy  (YHA), a week-long problem-solving camp for 10- to 12-year-olds. Based at Colchester High School, YHA brings students from 31 schools across Vermont to explore computer programming and use technology to create interactive stories that address social and environmental issues that our society is facing on both a local and global level.

Project 1 – Shelter room floor plan.

I gave a short PowerPoint presentation, or “Mission Briefing” in Young Hacks lingo, about what it’s like to be a child living in one of our Family Shelters.

We talked about the challenges of living in shelter, (fitting all of your family’s belongings into one bedroom, having new shelter rules in addition to family rules, getting along with nine other families, etc.)  and also about some of the things that can be fun about living in shelter (lots of kids to hang out with, spending time with volunteers in the evenings, going on field trips with students from Saint Michael’s College, etc.)

A big thing that we talked about was the physical layout of the shelters. For example, the Main Street Shelter houses 10 families, each with their own bedroom, but they have to share a bathroom and their refrigerator with at least one other family. Families negotiate kitchen space and other common areas,  such as laundry areas, the kids’ playroom, and the living room.  Outside we have a great playhouse – thanks  to Essex Technical Center — and a beautiful garden thanks to Gardener’s Supply Co.

After the presentation, I took questions from the students, or “Agents” as they are called at YHA:

      • How do kids get to school from the shelter? Under the McKinney-Vento Act, students who are experiencing homelessness are permitted to remain in their school of origin. The school district is then responsible for providing transportation to and from school. Many of our kids will ride in taxi cabs to get to school each day. This means getting up extra early in order to make it to school on time.
      • What happens to their pets when they have to move? Losing a pet can be one of the toughest things about being a kid who is moving into one of our shelters. Because of allergies, we cannot have pets in our communal environment. Sometimes pets will stay with friends or family members, other times a pet might have to be put up for adoption.
      • Are there places for kids to charge their iPod? Because we only have one computer for ten families, kids in the audience often ask about where kids can plug in their electronic devices, if they have them. We do have power outlets, just like any regular house. 
      • What do families eat for dinner? Both of our family shelters have kitchens for families to cook in. Families provide their own groceries, often through the assistance of food stamps, aka 3SquaresVT. Families will sometimes pitch in and cook together. Occasionally we’ll have a community meal that is provided by a generous community member.
      • Do you serve families who have lost their house in a fire or a flood? Absolutely. The reasons a family would be homeless are complicated and each family’s situation is unique. We serve families who have lost their homes to natural disaster, families who have had a job loss or a significant reduction in hours, families who have lost their housing as a result of a break-up or divorce, families who have lost work due to a catastrophic illness, etc.

Lots of questions like these mean that kids are thinking hard about the challenges that their peers are facing!

Project 2 – Family shelter tour.

After the presentation, the Agents got to work designing their own solutions for family homelessness. The Young Hacks used a program called Scratch to design solutions for the problems they faced.

In this case, they spent the morning  designing shelter and housing for families, keeping in mind the challenges and opportunities that we talked about in the Mission Briefing.

The results were very encouraging! Some students worked on designing interactive tours of theoretical shelters, (complete with a gym and even a room for the pets!) Others worked on animations that showed children in their rooms, and some even began designing games that took place in family shelters.

Tom wrote back to say, “Your presentation was really perfect. I was pleasantly surprised how much my group of 10- to 12-year-olds embraced the topic. In fact, in the afternoon, a handful of kids who took on the Moran Plant redevelopment challenge wanted to turn the abandoned building into a shelter. We were quite pleased that they made the connection…”

We were all so impressed with everyone’s creativity and innovation with the project and know that these young problem-solvers are already on their way to changing the world!

*Learn more about the Young Hacks Academy and learn more about our Speakers Bureau program (or reach out directly at | 802-864-7402 x 207)

Categories: COTS Shelters, Homeless Prevention, Homelessness, Staff and Board, Volunteers
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One response to “Nicole Visits Young Hacks Academy – Mission Briefing: Homeless Solutions”

  1. Valerie says:

    You rock, Nicole….as do the Young Hacks. This is the kind of problem-solving we can look forward to in the future.