Youth group sleeps out to raise awareness, money
PROSPECT — Bundled in blankets and layered in clothing, a group of teens called the traffic island in front of Town Hall home for 24 chilly hours.
The Prospect Congregational Church Senior Youth Fellowship held its 13th annual Homeless Awareness Sleepout this past weekend. From noon on Saturday to noon on Sunday, 10 members of the fellowship lived on the island at the intersection of Routes 69 and 68 with nothing more than a homemade tarp hut to sleep in and a fire to cook on.
They did so in the name of charity.
“It’s just a really neat experience, and it’s a good way to make a difference in the world. Even if it’s a small piece, it’s a piece,” said Kayla Rielly, 17, who has participated in the sleepout for four years.
The group sleeps out to raise awareness for homelessness as well as funds. Over the 24 hours, the group collected donations from drivers who stopped.
For Ariana Sherwood, 14, and Kaitlyn Dirga, 16, the 13th sleepout marked the first time they took part in the event.
Dirga was supposed to do it last year, but couldn’t because of an injury.
“I felt bad I couldn’t do it last year,” she said, adding, “It always feels good to help others.”
Sherwood’s friends in the group played a role in her decision to take part in the sleepout. However, she said, she did it more to do her part to lend a helping hand.
“It was mostly to help,” Sherwood said.
When asked how things were going Sunday morning, Sherwood bluntly replied, “It’s cold, really cold.”
It was a lot colder this year compared to last year’s sleepout, said Nicole Lukeski, 15, who participated in the sleepout both years.
According to accuweather.com, the low temperature on Saturday in Prospect was 29 degrees with a low of 26 on Sunday.
Lukeski said she chose to sleep out again because of the experience.
Aside from doing their part to help out, the day spent homeless provides a valuable lesson for the youth, said Rick Normand, senior youth fellowship advisor.
“It’s a good learning experience for the kids, even if it’s for a few hours,” Normand said.
Lukeski said, “It shows me how less fortunate people are, and it makes me sad.”
Brianna Hudson, 15, said it’s difficult to understand what other people go through without doing it. Hudson, who has slept out two times, said it’s good to experience what life is like for others, and the sleepout makes her appreciative for what she has in her life.
“I am very blessed,” Hudson said.
Mike Normand, 15, has been helping out with the event for seven years and slept overnight a few times as well.
Normand said he continues to help because he knows there are people who are living like the group does for 24 hours each year. The sleepout is a good way to give back, he added.
Rielly summed up the feeling of the group.
“It shows me how hard it is to have to do this every day, and it really gives me an appreciation for my family and friends and how much you have to appreciate the little things in life,” she said.
The sleepout began 13 years ago when Rev. Phyllis Norman came to Prospect Congregational Church from Rhode Island. Rick Normand said the sleepout was something Norman used to do before she came to Prospect.
Rick Normand described the actions of the youth in the group as tremendous. They could’ve been hanging out at the mall or doing other things over the weekend but instead they slept out in the cold to help others, he said.
“This is a great group of kids,” he said. “It really is.”
Rick Normand made it a point to say the sleepout is always held in the winter when it’s cold. Why?
“The summertime is kind of like a picnic,” he explained. “The folks that are homeless don’t get to choose.”
The group is still collecting donations. To donate, contact Prospect Congregational Church at (203) 758-4872.