The Rotary Club of Santa Clarita Valley teamed up with social workers from the William S. Hart Union High School District to help clothe 100 students — identified with housing insecurities — with a $100 shopping spree at Old Navy.
The shopping event is part of the Rotary Club’s Helping Homes Heal program, which was created with the help of Hart district social worker Elizabeth Orozco, who helped educate Rotary Club members that more than 700 students are registered as homeless in the district.
SCV Rotary Club Chairman Jason Downs initially reached out to Orozco to award scholarships to students in need but was informed about the housing-insecure student population and critical needs, such as clothing, food, employment resources and mental health counseling.
Children identified as homeless are defined as youth sharing housing with other families due to hardships, living in motels and shelters, or living in vehicles, according to the McKinney-Vento Act.
“We came up with this idea, Helping Homes Heal as a prevention program to keep these families and kids from ending up on the street,” Downs said. “That’s really our long-term goal.”
Downs said the first step identified by Orozco to help those students identified with need is to provide new clothes to help boost their confidence and morale to perform better in school.
The Rotary Club set and met a goal to raise more than $10,000 this year with various fundraisers, donations and events.
The fundraising goal was accomplished with the help of Stella Marquez-Barrett and the Valencia Summit Homeowners Association through a recent holiday boutique and food truck events this past summer, according to Downs.
Additionally, a grant from Rotary District 5280, support from the Newhall Rotary Community Foundation and a final donation from Commercial Bank of California, facilitated by Senior Vice President Nina Kazazian, helped the organization reach its goal.
The Rotary Club’s shopping event and Helping Homes Heal program is new; the organization is working to develop pathways to help families and children stay off the streets and have a better future, according to Downs.
“We want to help as many people stay off the street as possible and especially our youth,” Downs said. “Statistically, they end up addicted, being trafficked or incarcerated.”
The process is slow to raise funds and produce events to serve the community better. Still, Downs said that with the help of the Hart districts’ social workers, he wants to build those relationships with the families in need.
After all the work to raise funds, identify and coordinate the shopping spree, Downs and his team are grateful for the community’s support.
“It makes me feel very hopeful and grateful that we have such a great community,” Downs said. “I have such great people working alongside me, and we have such wonderful people working with our youth in the school district.”
The Rotary Club was able to identify those students in need with the help of Orozco, who was motivated to develop the clothing shopping event because it would encourage students to be in school physically.
An issue students face is being bullied or singled out for dressing differently or unable to follow the trends, which makes students not want to attend class, according to Orozco.
“When you have a school with so many kids and someone looks different, because they’re not wearing name brand, they get picked on and they get made fun of,” Orozco said.
Orozco is grateful for the work the Rotary Club has done with working over the summer to raise funds and providing scholarships to students who face financial hardships in addition to the Old Navy shopping event.
“I just want to thank them [Rotary Club] because they’ve gone above and beyond to support our students and not just students from our district,” Orozco said. “Students from all over the Santa Clarita Valley.”
Iracemi Sanchez is a Placerita Junior High School parent who was one of the appreciative parents leaving with new winter clothes for their children. She heard of the event when Orozco signed up her oldest child.
Orozco told Sanchez her other two children could benefit from the program, even if they’re not in the Hart district but are students in Santa Clarita.
Providing winter clothes for her children allows Sanchez to focus on other financial needs and eases her mind that her children have adequate clothing for school.
“It’s a great event that helps a lot of people and my family,” Sanchez said. “I’m very grateful for all the people that participated in this event and made this event happen.”