Kids endure a day of 'homelessness' to learn about lifetimes of struggle

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by TERESA WOODARD

WFAA

Posted on February 20, 2014 at 11:19 PM

Updated Thursday, Feb 20 at 11:19 PM

FORT WORTH -- All they could bring were blankets, a box, and a little bit of bravery.

But 150 seventh and eighth grade students at All Saints Episcopal in Fort Worth needed nothing more to learn a cold lesson in life.

One chilly night each year, the middle school student body spends the night at school, outside. No warm beds, no soft pillows, and no food.

Thursday night was the annual homelessness simulation.

Eighth graders like Luke Brockermeyer knew what they were in for.

"It'll get really cold during the night, but you have to remember that we're really lucky and we have a home, and that gets you through the night," he said.

The students come from families that can afford a private education, but for 24 hours, they lived like a family that can't afford a home. They used boxes to shield themselves from a cool wind, and they slept under layers of blankets and clothes. Boys on one side of the school, girls on the other.

Teachers and administrators watched over them, and watched them gain a new understanding of their blessings and of other people's struggles.

"Promise you, we'll take care of them, they'll be fine, but they'll wake up knowing there's an issue pressing - in Tarrant County, especially - with 4,000 families homeless," said All Saints Middle School Director Michael Gonzalez. "They'll have a better understanding tomorrow morning."

They took part in a 24-hour fast, from noon Thursday until noon Friday.

"I'm getting a little hungry right now , wishing I had some dinner right now," admitted seventh grader Kort Kuenstler. "But I get to go back to my bed tomorrow night and eat food. And some people don't."

It is called Project Empathy, and it is in its sixth year.

"You can see it in their eyes when we finally drive home the point and they actually understand what empathy is," said Spanish teacher and Project Empathy Advisor Kelsey de la Torre, "because empathy is a very intangible concept at the middle school age."

But this project is making a difference.

"After doing it, you realize how lucky you are and how fortunate you are," Brockermeyer said.

Before heading outside Thursday night, they listened to speakers from local shelters. They also meditated and prayed.

Friday morning, they will wake up early and line the driveway into school, holding cardboard signs and collection jars. Any money they raise will be donated.

The students also spent several weeks holding a blanket drive for Tarrant County shelters.

Head of Schools Tad Bird said Project Empathy is a perfect example of the school's greater mission.

"On one level, we do want them to be aware of their surroundings -- that other people don't have what they have," he said. "But also, as importantly, if not more importantly, that if they've been given certain gifts. Then what do they do with them?"

E-mail twoodard@wfaa.com

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