Project Connect Services
Project Connect provides advocacy, paired with specialized educational services and lifestyle enrichment opportunities for children and youth who are experiencing homelessness.
Project Connect Resource Center
PC has created a resource center where families may come and receive items needed for school, including clothing, uniforms, undergarments, coats, shoes, hygiene items, backpacks, school supplies, books and computer access.
Project Connect services include obtaining appropriate documents such as birth certificates, transcripts and immunization records necessary for school enrollment. In addition, they clear any obstacle that may hinder school attendance, such as lack of transportation or food service. Project Connect provides bus cards, bus tokens and gas vouchers, and arranges taxi service. The staff arranges meal service and provides school supplies, ensuring that each child is prepared for school.
The Project Connect department employs a housing systems navigator to provide housing support to families experiencing homelessness. Access to streamlined housing services has been implemented with several community partners, including CMHA, CAA, and the family housing partnership. The program is able to provide families who are unsheltered with an emergency hotel room stay of up to 3 days if certain eligibility criteria are met.
Enrichment services/programming are offered to parents and students in an effort to decrease performance gaps and mitigate some of the trauma associated with housing instability. PC offers a myriad of enrichment opportunities, including STEAM Lab, Academic Tutoring (reading tutoring, English language tutoring and shelter tutoring), therapeutic writing groups (Word Play, Elementz), summer enrichment, trauma groups, healthy relationship groups, and art therapy.
An Adolescent Liaison works with youth experiencing homelessness ages 13-17. Students with special needs receive services until age 22. The Adolescent Liaison maintains contact with school administrators and personnel, assists in the enrollment process and arranges transportation and food service. The Adolescent Liaison facilitates educational choices and connects students with appropriate services. Additionally, the Liaison provides professional development for members of the community.
Summer Academic and Enrichment Program
In an effort to decrease the summer learning slide, Project Connect provides a 6-week summer academic and enrichment program for students 5-14 years of age identified as experiencing homelessness or who are at risk of homelessness. Summer programming focuses on math and reading enrichment as well as social/emotional enrichment to mitigate the traumatic impact of housing instability.
Advocacy and Outreach
Advocacy and Outreach are essential components of Project Connect’s work. Project Connect helps educate individuals on the realities facing children and youth experiencing homelessness through speaking engagements and newspaper articles. Community awareness and participation are pivotal to the long-term success of the children and youth that Project Connect serves.
The Project Connect department identifies students from birth through graduation. When an assessment is completed, all children in the home are identified. If a family has a preschool age child, the PC department assists with education of early learning opportunities and enrollment into CPS preschool programs. The PC department coordinates with the ECE department to provide regular mobile preschool enrollment sessions at all local family shelters to eliminate any barriers to enrollment by meeting families where they are.
In an effort to decrease equity gaps in healthcare access for families experiencing homelessness, Project Connect partners with the Walton Mobile Direct Primary Care (WMDPC) group to provide on-site mobile health screenings. Screenings include: vision, hearing, physical, and mental health screenings for children and nutritional counseling/lifestyle coaching for parents. Upon completion of the screening, families receive WMPDC tele-health services for a year, free of charge to the family, allowing for continuity of medical care. This is a grant-funded program.
Parent engagement is a critical component of educational success. Parents of students experiencing homelessness often lack opportunities to engage in their children’s educational experience as they struggle to meet the basic health and safety needs of their families. PC brings a variety of parent engagement opportunities to families either through virtual platforms or onsite at the local family shelters. Engagement opportunities include trauma informed care/ACES, accessing early learning opportunities, resource fairs, understanding the special education process and more.
In the absence of a legal parent/guardian, PC liaisons are certified educational surrogates who represent the child in matters relating to identification, enrollment, assessment and educational placement, including the Individualized Education Program (IEP) meetings and any mediation or due process hearing pertaining to the child, with the exception of medical related issues.
The PC School Counselor provides 1-on-1 assistance with completing the FAFSA for students experiencing homelessness. For unaccompanied homeless youth, the student is guided in answering the questions related to their housing situation and the school counselor is required to provide a verification form for the financial aid office of the student’s post-secondary educational institution of choice.