Shantaz Williams, known as “man-man” to his friends, said he “feels happy” when he comes to St. Vincent de Paul Louisville’s Family Success Center. A third grader, Williams is one of 10 Engelhard Elementary School students who attend the FSC’s after school program Monday through Thursday.
Most of the Engelhard students are McKinney-Vento eligible, and thankfully, Williams is no longer eligible. McKinney-Vento eligible students are considered homeless—meaning those who lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence and could be sharing housing with others or living in shelters, motels, trailer parks, abandoned buildings, parks, and train stations. The McKinney-Vento federal law was created to support the education of homeless students by removing as many barriers to learning as possible.
Regina Jackson-Willis, the Family Resource and Youth Services Centers Coordinator (FRYSC) at Engelhard Elementary, has been on the frontlines of this for 12 years.
“My task is to remove non-academic barriers that prevent students from being successful,” Jackson-Willis said. “So those are basic needs—food, shelter, clothing, school supplies. Think about us as adults, if you’re hungry, you don’t do well … We comb hair. We have a washer and dryer for kids who come in with dirty clothes.”
During her interview with us, Jackson-Willis was continually interrupted by kids who needed something as simple as deodorant. Her office isn’t really an office, instead it’s stocked full of personal hygiene items, shoes, coats, clothing, and school supplies that take up the majority of her space.
“We have a very high need, transient population of students,” Jackson-Willis added. “We have kids come and go weekly. We have a lot of absences. That’s the plight of being homeless though. I always have to make sure people understand when you see homeless adults, there’s a high percentage of children attached to that person on the street.”
St. Vincent de Paul Louisville has partnered with Engelhard for almost a decade. The school is right down the street—only half a mile—from SVDP.
“They’re excited about going to St. Vincent when they see Mr. Julio (Anthony) pulling up in the van. They love Mr. Julio,” she said.
“I’m grateful that our students have the opportunity to do something outside of the school day,” Jackson-Willis added. “They’re safe, fed and their needs are taken care of after school hours. A lot of stuff happens after school hours. We know our kids are safe at St. Vincent. I think they care about them as much as we do. It takes a village.”
The Family Success Center’s after-school program is Monday through Thursday from 3:30 to 7:00 p.m. The FSC’s main goal, especially for its elementary students, is to shrink the educational gap and get each child on grade level for reading, math, science, and other school subjects. To volunteer at the
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