DeKalb special-needs students help the homeless

April 5, 2019

DeKALB – Glenn Armatead, 19, carried an armful of paper towels to the entrance of Hope Haven Friday, talking about his excitement delivering donations to the homeless shelter, and that his birthday is just six days away.

“I like it,” Armatead said of the donation drive. “I’m going to dye my hair blond,” he added, switching back to his birthday plans.

Armatead, along with 12 other students, is part of DeKalb High School’s 18-21 Transition Team, a program for young adults with disabilities. They kicked off their annual spring charity campaign by helping homeless residents at Hope Haven Friday.

With the guidance of special education teachers Jessica Montavon and Katelynn Young, the students hand-delivered donations of paper towels, laundry soap, dish soap, cleaning products, and other hygiene supplies to Hope Haven’s shelter at 1145 Rushmoore Drive.

“The donation means a lot,” said Michael Whitehead, case manager at Hope Haven. “We can take and accept anything, and we’re always grateful and appreciative.”

The high school’s transition team is made up of 18- to 21-year-olds with developmental and intellectual disabilities. Montavon’s class has seven students, and Young’s has six. Students have classes five days a week at DeKalb High School, with half the day spent at their respective job sites.

“What we try to do is make those connections in the working world [for the students],” Montavon said.

She said although the DeKalb community is supportive of providing volunteer work for adults with disabilities, it’s harder to find paid employment, especially if the person has an intellectual disability.

Jonathan Huffstutler, social worker at the high school, said the charity drive began last year when students wanted to do their part to give back.

“Last year we identified Barb Food Mart at Huntley Middle School [as the beneficiary of the drive], and raised all kinds of charity and food,” Huffstutler said. “That was neat because the young adults were able to pick up donations from teachers.”

This year, the transition team wanted to pick a different organization which would benefit from their efforts.

“One [student] said it would be important to help Hope Haven and people who don’t have a place to live,” Huffstutler said. “The students made some phone calls and emails to Hope Haven to identify critical items that they need.”

Huffstutler said Hope Haven staff told them that donations were especially needed this year after a cold winter led to increased demand for their services. The nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization serves on average 91 people each night within one of its three programs, which provide emergency shelter, transitional housing for families, and permanent housing for chronically homeless people with disabilities. The shelter’s emergency and transitional programs serve 65 people a night combined, according to the group’s website.

Hope Haven will accept a range of donations from the community, from furniture to leftover food from parties. In some cases, it is best to discuss with staff what you would like to donate before doing so.

Hope Haven can be reached at 815-758-5765.