BC Students Aiding Homeless Children

English literature course offers different kind of lesson to undergrads

By Stephen Gawlik
Staff Writer

A new program under way this holiday season through the English Department seeks to raise awareness of the plight of homeless children while nurturing their writing and study skills.

Each Thursday for the last month, Asst. Prof. Paula Mathieu (English), seven undergraduates and three graduate students have traveled to Sandra's Lodge, a Waltham shelter for homeless families. There, the BC volunteers work one-on-one with children living in the shelter, tutoring them in subjects like creative writing and reading and helping them finish their homework.

Mathieu, a second-year BC faculty member, serves as trustee and head of the editorial committee of Spare Change, a newspaper published every other week by the Homeless Empowerment Project in Cambridge.

Working in conjunction with Spare Change, the group plans to publish a special issue called Kids' 2 Cents, aiming to raise public awareness of the growing population of homeless children and to share their creativity and spirit with the world.

"Forty percent of the homeless population is children under 13," said Mathieu, "But most people don't think of children when they think of the homeless."

Mathieu says there is a lot to be gained from the Kids' 2 Cents project.

"BC students get a practical and beneficial outlet for their coursework in helping the community. Sandra's Lodge gets skilled and interested young adults working with children who might often not get enough attention and Spare Change gets the opportunity to raise the issue of children and family homelessness in its pages."

The seven undergraduates are enrolled in Mathieu's Literature of Homelessness class, which examines life on the street from a variety of perspectives. Students are required to read novels, press accounts, memoirs, poetry and policy studies that all relate to homelessness.

"It's really very fulfilling to take what you're learning in class through books and media accounts and apply it to real life," said Allison Laffer '06. "This course has been about looking past the titles and stereotypes and seeing what's really going on."

Laffer admits that prior to the class she accepted the stereotype of the homeless as middle-aged people with alcohol problems.

"It's stunning when you walk into Sandra's Lodge and realize that kids are just like every other kid you've ever known - except they don't have homes," she said. "You realize that if it wasn't for the lodge they would be sleeping on the street or in a car, or who knows where."

As a special treat for the holidays, the BC students will provide the Sandra's Lodge children with their own notebooks and pens so they can begin keeping their own journals.

Mathieu first became interested in street literature as a doctoral student in Chicago. She volunteered as a copy editor for Street Wise, a newspaper published by homeless people in that city, and later became involved in all phases of its operation, even organizing computer literacy courses and writing workshops for the paper's staff.

Today, she is secretary of the North American Street Newspaper Association, an umbrella organization representing 40 newspapers.

 

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