“The focus is to look outside ourselves and make sure Howard High School is a positive force in the community,” said Principal Regina Massella about the Change Matters initiative benefiting Grassroots Crisis Intervention Center Inc. in Columbia, which provides an emergency shelter program and 24-hour crisis intervention services.
Through Oct. 24, the students will ask staff and other students to donate change, and also reach out to community members.
“We want to let people know that homelessness happens even in Howard County,” said junior Alison Spatz who’s leading the drive with students Walker Smith and Che Brown. “Building a playground shows that we care and want to raise awareness and help.”
The school is partnering with the Elkridge Horizon Council, an advisory group for the Horizon Foundation, the county’s largest philanthropy. The council advises the foundation about issues in the community, including poverty and homelessness, and makes recommendations to help address them.
While it raises awareness about homelessness, the campaign will strive to promote Grassroots’ services and the importance of philanthropy, said Cathy Smith, a council coordinator.
“Philanthropy can be anything,” she said. “It could just be taking an afternoon and making sandwiches for Grassroots.”
This past year Grassroots provided shelter for 389 people, including 165 children. Howard is estimated to have about 400 homeless children.
“It’s fantastic. They’re inspiring and dedicated,” said Debra Popiel, deputy director at Grassroots about the students. “To see them reach out to kids who don’t have much, it’s just heartwarming.”
Grassroots wants to expand the pilot initiative to other county schools early next year, she said.
The playground is expected to cost about $7,000 and about $10,000 with landscaping, Popiel said.
Grassroots wants at least some of equipment to be installed by the end of the spring.
Raising funds for the shelter could be more important in the near future as more students and families may find themselves in tough financial situations because of the economy, Massella said.
Howard High is one of the most diverse schools in the county, and some students even go to Grassroots, she said.
“We don’t always know who in our school needs help, so it makes this more real,” said junior Andrew Rotolo.
Other student members on the Change Matters committee include Marriott’s Ridge High School junior Adejire Bademosi; Wilde Lake High School senior Dylan Singleton and freshman Julia Singleton; and Howard High senior Lunden Hawkins and junior Corinne Tomaszewski.
To make a donation to the Change Matters campaign, call 410-531-6006 or visit grassrootscrisis.org.