Dozens of East Aurora High School students will be sleeping overnight on the school’s football field and raising thousands of dollars for local homeless residents as part of a project inspired by a nonfiction novel. The students have a goal of raising $15,000 before the April 18 event at East Aurora High School, 500 Tomcat Lane.
All the funds collected would be split between Aurora’s Hesed House homeless shelter and local families in need. Students created the project after reading about the profound, lifelong effect that poverty had on the two main characters in “There Are No Children Here”.
“People give at the holidays. But poverty is a year-round factor and we want people to remember is happening every day,” said East Aurora High School senior Alfonso Dieppa, one of the students who will be part of the Tomcat Sleep Out.
About the class
Seven years ago, East Aurora High School English teacher Shane Gillespie created a class called “Survivor Literature”, which focuses on analyzing literature to take informed action. The class, which has grown to six sections, examines nonfiction novels about people who have survived tremendous hardship.
Each year, students select one book to be a launching point for a student-led independent study and service project. The students choose a book that will be educational and impactful. When a book is picked, the students discuss the novel as a literary work and as a call to action. In past years, students have traveled to Louisiana to help victims of Hurricane Katrina; raised money to bring a Holocaust survivor to speak; heard from a blind man who survived the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks; and raised money for a former child soldier.
This year, the students selected “There Are No Children Here: The Story of Two Boys Growing Up in the Other America” as their independent study. The 1991 book garnered national recognition for its compassionate and unflinching portrait of Pharoah and Lafeyette Rivers, two young boys growing up in a public housing project in inner city Chicago.
About the event
The students have designed a day of service inspired by the book. On April 18, more than 100 students will sleep out on the school’s football field. They will be technology free for the evening. They will bring one bag of belongings and eat a communal meal, in an effort to replicate the experiences of poverty and homelessness that many Aurora residents face. The event will also feature a community service aspect: it will be a clothing drive and fundraiser.
To donate, go to gofundme.com/sleepout2015 or send a check to Shane Gillespie c/o East Aurora High School, 500 Tomcat Lane, Aurora IL 60505.
You can follow the student’s journey on Twitter at @TomcatsSleepOut
Kotlowitz, a prominent author who lives in the Chicago area, will be speaking with students at the high school prior to the Sleep Out event.