Homeless Children Find Help From Their Principal
Yesterday, I was at my beauty salon getting my hair done and had to spend some of that time under the hair drier, so I picked up a People magazine that was sitting there to kill the time. Little did I know that during those 15 minutes, I would enjoy one of the most inspirational stories I have ever read. And I knew that I would have to share this awesome story with all of you. So, sit back as I tell you about Sherrie Gahn, and when I do, I hope you will feel free to let the tears flow just as I do every time I listen to this truly remarkable woman.
Sherrie Gahn is the principal of Whitney Elementary in Las Vegas, a district where nearly 85% of her students are homeless. In a city with 12.1 % unemployment, the highest foreclosure rate in the whole country, and one out of every nine households receiving foreclosure notices, things are pretty bleak.
“When they leave here on a daily basis, we don’t know where they’re going. Their environment changes every day. Some days they may live in an apartment, some days they’re living in a hotel/motel, some days they may be on the streets. We don’t know where they’re going to go,” said Sherrie.
“I thought that I saw the ultimate poverty when I got here eight years ago and every year it has gotten worse and the recession made it ten times worse.”
She told CBS News, that the life-changing moment for her was when she saw kids stuffing ketchup packets into their pockets. When she asked the staff at the school why the children were taking ketchup packets home, she was told that they take them home so that they can eat that night by making ketchup soup for dinner.
This is when she realized that she had to do more than just make sure these students were learning. As she explained, she had to give these children self-esteem and a sense of safety.
“My goal was, if I can take that off their plate; if I can make them come to school and feel safe, and warm, and they have clothes, and just like any other child, and they’re on the same level playing field as any other child in school, then they can learn. I guess it’s sort of that fairy tale that, you know, you go to school and you get a new backpack, you get new clothes. Christmas, you get presents, and at birthday you get presents and a cake. And these kids don’t get that. It’s huge. It’s your self-esteem. It’s who you are. So, I decided to do it. I decided to give them those things,” she tearfully explained.
Gahn said, “I told the parents that I would give them whatever they need. All I need them to do is give me their children and let me teach them. In turn, I will give you food and clothes and we will take them to the eye doctor. I will pay your rent, pay your utilities, but keep your child here.” She said she agreed to do all of these things, “as long as you give me your child, and then help raise that child as a person of character.”
Due to the daily donations of local businesses and 500 donors, children at Whitney Elementary School get free clothes, free bread to take home to their families, and even free haircuts. Due to a functioning food bank staffed by several volunteers, students get food to take home on the weekends as well.
Additionally, the school has provided financial assistance to families who have overdue bills, have helped families keep their homes, have helped students to get the glasses they need, and have even, according to Shirley Hernandez, whose grandchildren go to school at Whitney, given families what they needed to have a Christmas.
Aside from the most obvious impact that Sherrie and her host of donors and volunteers have had on this community, students have also made gains academically. Test scores have doubled in reading proficiency on state standardized tests since Sherrie became the principal, a result, she says, of students’ needs being met and the new hope that her students have for their future.
“They have food in their bellies that they would not have had, they have clothes on their back they wouldn’t have had and for the first time someone believes in them. It’s beyond food and clothing,” she said.
Of the children who have been placed in Sherrie’s care, she says, “This does not define who they are. They can be better. And if I can give them that, and teach them that, and show them that, then I’ve done my job.”
And she makes them this promise, “I tell every fifth grade class, if you make it through junior high, and you make it through high school, and you can’t afford to go to college, you come see me, and I’ll make sure you go to college.” She went on to tell CBS News that the school has a small trust fund that has been started for just this purpose.
When CBS asked her what her success rate is, she tearfully said, “The look in their face that I made their life better. That’s my success rate when they hug me and thank me for the food, the clothes. Then I know it’s a good day.”
Sherrie recently appeared on the Ellen DeGeneres Show where she was awarded a $100,000 check from Target for the children at her school, and each child received a backpack with reading materials to help these students improve their reading skills. Those of you who are interested might want to send a donation to help this amazing woman help her amazing children. Or if you would like to make a more significant, long-term commitment, you might want to consider adopting a class and working alone or with a group to fulfill a classroom’s needs. If so, follow this link.
This is the ultimate example of service and dedication, and the impact that this woman, her staff, and volunteers are making in this impoverished community is truly inspirational! Bless you, Sherrie, and bless these children whose lives you are transforming!