Shade Tree shelter helps kids get ready for school

It’s back-to-school time — a period that’s tough on any parent’s budget, but even more so if that parent is a single mother who’s in crisis.

And so the kids at the Shade Tree shelter for homeless and abused women and children are particularly in need of school supplies, specifically backpacks (for kindergartners through 12th-graders), three- and five-subject notebooks, Marks-a-Lot or Sharpie markers, highlighters and Scotch tape. (The new school year for the Clark County School District starts Monday.)

Executive Director Brenda Dizon said last week that there were 62 children at the shelter, roughly from birth through 18 years old, males and females, with an average age of 9. That number is “actually low,” she noted.

“We can sleep up to 364 a night, and we run pretty consistently at 38 percent children.”

And she said the children need help, just so they can feel like children.

“We believe that the children are certainly the most unwitting of all victims,” she said. “They don’t have any choice and they don’t have any way to get out of it. They don’t ask for the situation they’re in.”

Dizon said the staff has two goals for children while they’re at the Shade Tree.

“The first one is to give them permission to be children, because for some of them, it’s the only childhood they’re going to have,” she said.

The second is to get them into school and to stay in school and to show them that education is the way to break the cycle of homelessness and abuse.

“And we work with parent and child to build healthier, stronger relationships,” she said. “So many are put in age-inappropriate situations of having to take on parental responsibilities. We tell them, ‘We want you to be a child while you’re here. We’ll take care of Mom.’ “

Dizon said August, like December, is one of the busiest times at the shelter.

“Families come back at that time, because it’s time to get the kids back in school,” she said. “When the children are out of school, they can go visit family and stay with them. Sometimes not even the family knows they’re in a situation of homelessness or abuse. They can still maintain some sense of self-pride, and not have their kids in a shelter for any longer than possible. No matter what we provide for them, they’re always going to prefer a home environment.”

Dizon said being prepared for school can help make kids feel more at home.

“By giving them everything that they need for school, that other kids have for school, it helps them feel much better about themselves and the circumstances they’re in,” she said. “They want to be like everybody else.”

As for the parents, she said, “many feel horrible about the fact that at this particular point, they can’t care for their kids.”

Anyone who is interested in donating is asked to call 385-0072, or drop the items off at the shelter at 1 W. Owens Ave., at the corner of Main Street.

Volunteers also are always needed, Dizon said, for positions that include the children’s center, donation center, landscaping, serving breakfast or lunch, and at Noah’s Animal House, which will have its grand opening Oct. 9.

“Any group is always welcome to come in and do an activity for the children,” she said. “And we’re always looking for folks with some kind of training or ability to help out with life-skills training,” such as a banker who could teach budgeting, or a teacher who could help kids and their mothers with reading and math. Those interested in volunteering are asked to call 385-0072, Ext. 104.

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