It happens more often than we’d like to admit: kids who are essentially homeless, sleeping on couch to couch with friends and relatives. The ones who try to sneak into the YMCA overnight so they’ll have a place to stay. Or sleep in the doorways at KCTCS. (This according to YMCA and KCTCS staff.)
Students like Selena Coalter, a senior at Daviess County High School, who grew up in a trailer that usually had either the water or electricity turned off. Sometimes both.
Using herself, her siblings and other students she knows as examples, Selena shared her very personal experiences with a ballroom full of Owensboro Convention Center guests Tuesday afternoon at a fundraiser luncheon to support the Empowerment Academy, a project to provide safe housing and stability for high school students who are homeless or near homeless.
“Imagine having parents who couldn’t provide for you. Imagine getting through school during the day and then coming home to no electricity and no water and still being expected to do your homework that night. Imagine constantly thinking ‘where am I going to stay tonight’ when you should be worrying about a paper that’s due tomorrow or a math test tomorrow,” Selena told the crowd.
The really hard part, according to Coalter, is acting like everything is okay while you’re at school and hoping your teachers and friends don’t find out what’s really going on so you won’t have to answer embarrassing questions.
In Selena’s house, school work and good grades were never encouraged. But in the fifth grade, with support from her teachers, she got all A’s for the first time and really liked how that made her feel. Since that day, she strived for a 4.0. By the seventh grade, teachers began encouraging her to take advanced classes. Sophomore year, she signed up for all AP classes.
“I wanted to be the change in my family,” Coalter said, giving full credit to the teachers who supported her, and especially her aunt who provided a stable place for Selena to stay and study.
Like her aunt and those supportive teachers, “The Academy will be the right people at the right time,” Coalter said. “It will be a ray of light for these young people in their darkest moments. For them, it will be home, and when you have a home, anything is possible.”
Plans are underway to renovate the former St. Angela Hall on the property of the Ursuline Sisters of Mount St. Joseph. But funding must be secured before improvements begin.
If the large crowd at the fundraiser this afternoon is any indication, the Empowerment Academy is recognized as a great need in our community.
“We’re already getting calls from school resource centers asking when the Empowerment Academy will open because they have students in their offices who are homeless,” said Russ Wilkey, just before he introduced Senator Rand Paul, the guest of honor at the luncheon.
“In reality, it’s going to take something more than government to fix our educational system,” Senator Paul said. “Maybe we need to look in the mirror and say, ‘what can I do to make the problem better’ because there is an obligation for us to take care of our fellow man.
What you’re seeing in your community is people being involved in a project that really will make a profound difference. I’m glad to be a small part of it, and I will continue as your senator to promote things that are good for our communities.”