WORKING AGAINST HOMELESSNESS: School on Wheels of Massachusetts, an Easton-based nonprofit that provides educational assistance for children affected by homelessness, recently celebrated its first 10 years of success with a Foxborough gala that raised more than $100,000. The group awarded David Howe of Easton its first "Champion for Our Kids" award, for his longstanding commitment to its cause.
"Homelessness is a serious issue in this country, and it's everywhere," Howe said in a phone interview. "It's in my town and your town. What happens is a lot of kids migrate to the cities, but lots of homelessness starts out in the Eastons or the Sharons or the Wellesleys."
Howe enlists the aid of his family to help School on Wheels. His children have handed out school supplies, and one of his daughters has sung the national anthem at the group's fund-raisers. Howe and his wife, Karen, donate gifts for the organization's Christmas parties, as well as raise money.
Howe has done well in business, he said, as owner and president of Evolution Sports in Easton and Sharon and the J. Derenzo Cos. in Brockton, helping him and his family to give back to the community.
"We've all worked in there doing many things," he said. "It's important that we do."
Howe said he was humbled by the award but gives full credit for School on Wheels' success to its founder and executive director, Cheryl Opper, who he said "is awesome, and a tireless worker. I think in another 10 years, SOWMA will be five times as large."
Currently, the group has 22 program sites and has trained nearly 1,500 volunteer tutors who work with 1,700 homeless children living in shelters, hotels, and motels. When the agency began, it had two tutoring sites and 10 students. Four more sites are opening soon, Opper said, serving 50 more students. Currently, 34 School on Wheels students are in college.
Kerenne Paul spoke at the gala, the first student from the organization to graduate from college. The 22-year-old recounted her journey from being tutored at a family shelter in Middleborough to getting her degree in May from the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth. She now works as a program assistant at Harvard Medical School, and wants to pursue her master's degree at Harvard Extension School.
"Homelessness happens for a multitude of reasons," Howe said. "Services may not be available, or there are mental illness issues, or just bad luck. Thank God for people like Cheryl who get us involved to help."
For more information, visit www.sowma.org.
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