I was deeply honored earlier this month to be awarded the Distinguished Service and Leadership Award from the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth.
Unfortunately, I could not attend the conference in person but I sent the following message to the 800 delegates attending their annual convention:
Please accept my thanks for this wonderful award. As President Obama has rightly noted, the best anti-poverty strategy is a good education. Like you, I see the growing number of homeless children in our nation as a moral crisis. This crisis has economic, political and even spiritual implications. I believe, like Dr. King, that we are called to create the Beloved Community and to do so we must end homelessness - not just manage it. The National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth is one of the great civil rights organizations of our time. Without your advocacy and leadership children across our country who are living in homelessness would have no hope. So for me it is a tremendous honor to receive an award from this organization. It's like winning the Nobel Peace Prize. And if I could, I would present each one of you an award in return for the work you do each day to promote to common good of our nation.
So what does this organization do?
NAEHCY, a national grassroots membership association, connects educators, parents, advocates, researchers, and service providers to ensure school enrollment and attendance and overall success for children and youth whose lives have been disrupted by the lack of safe, permanent, and adequate housing. NAEHCY achieves these goals through advocacy, partnerships, and education.
Each year, approximately 1.5 million children and youth experience homelessness in our nation's towns, cities and counties. These students lack the stability and peace of mind we all hope to be able to give our children. On a regular basis, children and youth report that school is a home to them – a place where they see the same faces, sit in the same seat, and can put their hearts and minds into pursuits that ease their daily troubles. In academic settings, students gain the skills and support needed to avoid poverty and homelessness as adults. Our members work in schools, education, and advocacy agencies across the country, as well as in shelters and community organizations. We are on the front lines identifying, enrolling, and coordinating services for homeless children and youth.
It has been my deep honor to work with the staff and board of NAEHCY over many years to help lift up the needs of students experiencing homelessness in our nation. There might be no more important work as we try and save a generation of Americans who are seeking with their families to escape the cycle of poverty and homelessness that so many are trapped in.
Right now as Congress debates funding for programs that help lift people out of poverty it is critical that all Americans demand that educational opportunities not be denied. Public education is one of America's greatest achievements and students who are homeless need schools and the hope they provide more than most.
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