For the second year in a row, I was honored to participate in the annual Sleep Out for Covenant House. Two hundred and thirty sleepers raised over $623,000! With the support of my family and friends, I raised $6,000 for the homeless youth of my city.
Reflection on Launching a Student Sleep Out
Written by Alicia Buenaventura
Pursuing an internship at Covenant House was likely the most meaningful commitment I chose my freshman year of college. Every week, I chose to commute downtown to one of New Orleans’ most impactful nonprofits. Just minutes from my affluent campus, I learned how stark the issue of homelessness among local youth was. My first day I watched “Shelter,” a documentary following the residents of Covenant House, and held back tears at the desk when I heard the stories from youth that passed through each day. After weeks of interacting with youth, learning how the organization functioned, and talking with fellow staff members about their jobs, I was fully committed to the mission of Covenant House.
If I learned anything from working in the administration of a major non-profit, it was that money is crucial. In order to make their miracles happen, including reuniting youth with families, assisting new homeowners with monthly rent, and funding basic needs like food, clothing, and mattresses for residents, Covenant House staff must use their energy writing grants, asking for donations, or organizing fundraising events. Their Sleep Out (an event where comm
unity members fundraised from friends and family and committed to sleeping outside for one night) seemed to me a wonderful movement that not only spread the word broadly about Covenant House but also demonstrated the community’s commitment to supporting local homeless and runaway youth.
When the Sleep Out finally came around, I wanted to join it, fundraise with a group of friends from Tulane and show that my local University was committed to local issues as well. When I learned there was an age limit though, Covenant House staff members who knew me encouraged me to start my own student sleep out on my campus. I jumped at the idea and immediately, started texting my friends and emailing student organizations. I started scheduling meetings with Student Affairs and the Center for Public Service to make the event official and reserve a space outside to sleep.
I started to gain support for the sleep out, particularly from Tulane’s Habitat for Humanity organization whose entire executive board spread the word about it and fundraised. Dedicated sleepers, strangers, friends, and staff members were fundraising via Facebook and email. It
was by no means easy, even very difficult at times. Some student organizations would not email me back, some close friends who initially intended on participating fell through.
Logistically, from reserving a space to advertising the event, I had to work through a lot of forms, emails, and meetings. I had to figure out about a lot moving parts of Tulane’s campus on my own. As I am not
affiliated with Greek life or any other kind of cohort organization, I sometimes felt alone. I imagine it would have been easier if I had a cohort like sorority sisters to bandwagon my sleep out, but I did not have that, it was just me representing a mission for Covenant House. I reached out to individuals and campus leaders in the hope they would just believe in the mission and participate because they cared about homelessness among local young people. Every person I reached out to do it was incentivized to do it not because of an obligation, but because they truly cared and believed in the mission. In this sense it made it harder, but a lot more meaningful.
The day of the event, Jim Kelly, the executive director and Palmer Mills, Development Associate & Volunteer Program Coordinator came to my school to talk to the sleepers about the organization and show videos from the documentary that inspired me in the beginning, “Shelter.” After that event, the participating students were very motivated to sleep out and support the cause. Some students were even interested in volunteering with Covenant House after this talk.
In the end, after weeks of planning, fundraising, and organizing, the sleep out raised over $8,300. When I finally laid my cardboard down at the end of the night to sleep, I felt very proud of everyone for fundraising and reflected on the plethora of actors from Tulane and Covenant House that supported me. Although it was certainly difficult, I was glad I took on the initiative. What kept me going was remembering that the incredible youth of Covenant House are worth all the effort. I am so glad that I was able to do this and give more for Covenant House beyond my weekly time as an intern.
A Night on the Street
Reflections on the Covenant House Sleep Out
Written by Sophie Trist
This year, I got the opportunity to participate in the seventh annual Sleep Out, a fundraiser to benefit Covenant House, an organization that serves homeless and at-risk youth. I partnered with my best friend, Alex Christian Lucas, to take on the Sleep Out. Together, the two of us managed to raise $12,000 for the homeless youth of New Orleans! The outpouring of kindness and generosity was truly mind-blowing. Fellow college students would hand us $5 and apologize for not being able to give more. We assured everyone that no donation was too small. My partner and I broke two records this year: we had the most donors of any sleeper, and we were the youngest people ever to participate in the on-site sleep out.
One of our donors wrote on our page, “When you stand on the margins, the margins disappear,” a quote attributed to Jesuit priest Father Gregory Boyle, who works with gang members in L.A. During our night on the street, I felt the lines between “us” and the young women and men of Covenant House first blur, then vanish altogether. The Sleep Out isn’t about pretending to be homeless; it is an act of solidarity, of kinship.
Upon arrival, Alex and I got the opportunity to tour Covenant House’s campus. We saw the Crisis Center, where kids are cared for when they first come off the street and learned of Rights of Passage, the transitional living program in which residents receive holistic, individualized support. The beauty of Covenant House is that they don’t take a one-size-fits-all approach. They understand that each kid has unique and complex problems, and they see the inherent goodness and value in each young man and woman.
After the tour, the sleepers broke into groups of ten, where we got the opportunity to have a deeper conversation with a couple of residents and a staff member. I was blown away by the courage and resilience of the two young men who shared their stories with us. I didn’t think it was possible for my love and respect for the Covenant House kids to grow, but it did, by leaps and bounds. As a research intern for Covenant House, I read statistics all the time. But words and numbers pale in comparison to hearing the voices of people my age who have endured hardships beyond my understanding.
It was nearly one in the morning by the time Alex and I arranged our cardboard boxes on the sidewalk, crawled into our sleeping bags, and attempted to sleep. One of the pillars of a Jesuit education is to find God in all things. Lying on that cold cement, listening to cars rumble past, I truly felt the presence of God. I tried to imagine what sleeping out in the cold would be like without a clean, unused box, a nice sleeping bag, and a warm jacket. I tried to imagine how terrifying it would be to sleep on a street that wasn’t cordoned off and patrolled by four police officers, not knowing if the people walking past were friends or foes. Like my small-group conversation with the two young men earlier in the night, sleeping out deepened my emotional and spiritual kinship with youth who suffer homelessness.
On the way back to school the next morning, Alex said, “Sophie, that was life-changing.” Life-changing is the only word that describes my Sleep Out experience, and it feels inadequate. During this one night of encounter and unity, I felt like judges, civic leaders, college students, and homeless young people became one family. We slept out to say, “We must do better by these young men and women.” We slept out because we refuse to abandon our brothers and sisters. We slept out because there is beauty and dignity in each person, no matter what they have done or experienced. We slept out because we are all God’s children, called to live together in perfect love.
Sophie Trist has been totally blind since birth, but she’s never let that stop her from doing what needs getting done using alternative techniques like braille and a talking computer.
Sophie is a junior in the Honors program at Loyola University New Orleans, where she’s majoring in English with a concentration in writing. Her dream is to obtain an MFA in creative writing and become an English professor, as well as write novels of her own. Her other hobbies include listening to country music, hanging out with family and friends, playing with her three dogs, and reading every book she can get her hands on.
Sophie was deeply impacted by the documentary “Shelter,” and knew she wanted to work at Covenant House the moment she watched it. Working with the research and grant writing team has engaged two of Sophie’s greatest passions: learning new ways and styles of writing, and working for social justice in her community.
Our 7th annual SLEEP OUT on Thursday, November 15th will once again be a very special evening. We’re honored that Martha Landrum has volunteered to chair this year’s event.
Last year, 165 sleepers raised $465,000 to support our runaway, homeless, and at-risk young people. Our goal for 2018 is to recruit 175 sleepers and raise $475,000. We can’t do it without you.
In the past seven years, the number of young people in our daily care has grown from 45 to 162 per night. They are among the most damaged and vulnerable youth in our community. Most are victims of physical and/or sexual abuse, domestic and/or street violence, and the resulting profound trauma that often leads to substance abuse, mental health issues, and more. The Sleep Out is our opportunity to let them know they are not alone: that we stand with them in their struggles, celebrate their courage and resiliency, and support their promise and dreams.
Covenant House NOLA
CHNOLA is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Much more than “just a shelter,” we provide supportive counseling and the tools needed to help our youth become independent, productive members of our community.