Dancing with the Stars in Charlotte gala is tomorrow – here’s how I’m casting my vote and why.

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What could ballet have to do with child homelessness in Charlotte? Here’s how the merger of arts and philanthropy can help the thousands of kids in town who don’t have a home.

Taking a creative leap for philanthropy

Of the 600,000 homeless citizens in America, over 135,000 are children. If that doesn’t make you set down that cup of java and count your blessings, you need to go volunteer at a shelter some weekend. (Here are some options.)

Let’s bring this closer to home. There are over 11,000 homeless in North Carolina. One in 380 adult citizens (2,014) in Charlotte is homeless, and that population includes many children, according to the Urban Ministry website.

Last year there were over 4,000 students K-12 in CMS schools who were classified as “homeless:” sleeping doubled up at a friend, neighbor, or family member’s home, in a shelter, in a week-to-week hotel, or in a car.

Can you imagine sleeping a car then showing up to school each day, most likely exhausted and hungry?

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools seem to be having many growing pains lately, so it is easy to imagine how these students could fall through the cracks. Several organizations (Urban Ministry, Moore Place, Crisis Assistance Ministry, Center of Hope at the Salvation Army, YWCA) in Charlotte are out to change that, but A Child’s Place is one entity specifically focused on children and their education.

A Child’s Place mission

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According to its website, A Child’s Place began in 1989 when a group of women were walking through Settlers Cemetery in Uptown Charlotte and noticed children playing there during school hours. When asked why they were not in school, the children explained that they were not allowed to enroll in school without a permanent address.

The women began a school for 27 homeless children in a room provided by First Presbyterian Church with then-teacher and current CMS Superintendent Ann Clark, and they called it A Child’s Place.

Soon after these beginnings, Congress passed the McKinney-Vento Act protecting the educational rights of homeless children. A Child’s Place mission shifted to supporting homeless children enrolled in public school.

Since 1989, the agency has substantially expanded its service capacity. During the 2013-2014 school year, the team helped 2,843 homeless children. (These numbers mask the additional support provided to siblings and the parent(s).)

Innovative philanthropic approaches in support of human services

Susan Hansell, director at A Child’s Place, says that the agency’s efforts are helping erase the impact that a homeless crisis has on a child’s education. Because of the instability kids experience, according to A Child’s Place, these children are:

  • Hungry twice as often as other children
  • Sick four times more often
  • Two to three grade levels behind and twice as likely to repeat a grade
  • Experiencing emotional and behavioral problems three times more than their housed peers
  • Graduating at less than 25% (national average is 70%)

What can we do?

Running a nonprofit entity is a financially challenging endeavor, so one has to admire when the community finds innovative ways to sustain these important efforts. Charlotte Ballet’s Dancing with the Stars annual gala returns for its fourth year this weekend.

Dancing with the Stars of Charlotte pairs local “stars” from some of Charlotte’s most esteemed corporations (the banks, Panthers, law firms, etc), with professional dancers of the Charlotte Ballet, to raise funds for the ballet company and each star’s chosen charity.

The 2015 event saw over $250,000 go to the six charities the stars chose to support. In 2015, according to the Charlotte Ballet’s website, the event welcomed over 900 guests and raised nearly $775,000.

For this year’s event, my vote is going to Jennifer Weber, chief human resource officer at Lowe’s Companies (previously executive vice president for external affairs, strategic policy and chief human resources officer at Duke Energy).

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Photo courtesy of Jennifer Weber

Jennifer is dancing with Charlotte Ballet’s Josh Hall to raise funds for A Child’s Place. You’ve got to love when corporate celebrities and superior athletes use their superpowers to do good! Here’s a preview of Jennifer and Josh on the dance floor:

Putting oneself out there on stage, under the spotlight in front of nearly a 1,000 spectators, doing something as radical as dancing in a tutu or tights is pretty brave, if you ask me. But it’s that kind of audacious approach to philanthropy that is going to contribute to helping alleviate the strains of poverty and homelessness in Charlotte – a quality of Charlotteans that I really admire.

Want to get involved? Here’s how.

First, vote for Jennifer and Josh to win the Charlotte Ballet’s Dancing with the Stars Contest. $1 = one vote. Funds earned go to A Child’s Place and the Ballet. It’s not too late to register to attend this entertaining event.

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Photo via the Charlotte Ballet

Second, consider volunteering to tutor and mentor these young children. Volunteer tutors and mentors enable A Child’s Place to match a child experiencing a homeless crisis with a caring adult, to help with reading, math or just to be a school-time friend for 30 minutes a week.

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a-childs-place-volunteer-opportunities

Third, mobilize your office or your kids’ classroom to organize a school supply, toiletries, and/or snack bags drive.

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a-childs-place-toys-and-supplies

Fourth, consider a direct personal (or corporate) donation to support overhead costs of trained Social Workers and Student Advocates who work directly with students and families.

“We see our children through their potential, not their state of homelessness,” said Susan Hansell.  “A Child’s Place has the opportunity to shift their focus from the crisis their family is in to their future by erasing the barriers that keep them from developing that strong connection.”

Helping kids in dire need is simply the right thing to do.

Helping kids is also an economically wise move.

If we don’t intervene at this end of their development, our community will bear much greater burdens in future years. It currently costs ACP $817 per year to serve a client homeless child.

This keeps them in school, provides the emotional and social skills they need and can have a better chance of getting on a path that breaks free from the cycle of homelessness and poverty.

Compare that to the more than $60,000 per year it costs taxpayers for a child to be in our juvenile justice system or the nearly $40,000 per year it costs taxpayers to incarcerate or provide substance abuse treatment for an adult.

A hat tip to the team at A Child’s Place for answering this call to duty. Congrats – and good luck – to all the local celebrities who are taking the leap this weekend to serve others in our community.

Cover image courtesy of the Charlotte Ballet

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Paula Broadwell
| @paulabroadwell
20-year Army veteran, non-profit leadership consultant, co-founder of the Active Charlotte Alliance, and co-director of Think Broader Foundation (a gender equality social impact group).