Thomas Elementary Poet-Athletes Practice Empathy With Donation Drive for Unhoused Young People

1-dfd2bb.png The DC SCORES team at Thomas collected socks, hygiene products, and basic food items for people experiencing homelessness.

Note: This story was originally published before the death of Arianna Davis, a Thomas student and DC SCORES poet-athlete. Thomas poet-athletes shared their fears about gun violence in an interview before she was killed on May 14. The story has been updated with details and reflections on her life, per her coaches’ request.

“It makes me feel sick,” says Neval Thomas Elementary School 4th-grader Carlizze when he thinks about the experiences of unhoused people in his neighborhood. “They can’t go nowhere when it’s cold, they can’t go nowhere to sleep. It makes me feel terrible,” adds his classmate Jamia.

The DC SCORES poet-athletes are discussing what they have learned this season in the non-profit’s service-learning curriculum. Every spring, more than 3,000 poet-athletes like Carlizze and Jamia give back to their neighborhoods through projects that are the culmination of weekly DC SCORES service-learning workshops.

This year, the Thomas team organized collections of much-needed clothing, hygiene products, and foodstuffs for unhoused individuals, focusing in particular on the needs of children and teens. “We wanted a project that helped people outside our school community,” says Thomas DC SCORES Coach Chrystal Puryear. “We want the people we’re supporting to know that they are not forgotten.”

Supporting Neighbors Through Crisis

“It’s important because it connects the poet-athletes to the community,” says Puryear of DC SCORES service-learning, which is combined with soccer and poetry training to complete the non-profit’s award-winning model.

Throughout the year, DC SCORES poet-athletes build teamwork through soccer programming. In the fall, students write poetry to explore issues they care about in their communities, before applying their teamwork skills to take action on those issues through spring season service-learning.

At Thomas, students’ fall poetry addressed their safety concerns in DC, a city where young people have been increasingly impacted by gun violence in recent years.

Tragically, the uptick in shootings directly impacted the Thomas community earlier this month when Arianna Davis, a 10-year-old member of the DC SCORES team, was killed by stray bullets while traveling through her neighborhood with her family.

“Arianna was very caring and loving — she was a big sister to the Thomas Junior SCORES team. She’s a missing piece of our Thomas SCORES family,” says Puryear. “She deserved a safe space to learn, play, and grow.”

Thomas students began their service-learning project in February, before the loss of their teammate. However, gun violence has become such a persistent problem in their neighborhood that the shelter drive was directly connected to poet-athletes’ safety concerns.

“In the neighborhood, gunshots be here, it just be nervous,” says 9-year-old Jalayah, who participates in DC SCORES with her twin sister Jaleyah. The siblings say they want to support neighbors who don’t have a secure place to go.

“It Feels Good to Help”

After deciding to focus on homelessness, the Thomas team conducted research so they could build a project that both met the needs of the community and was achievable for the young students.

“At first, the students wanted to try and fund healthcare, but we had to figure out how to do something we could do,” says Puryear.

2-f49d76.png The poet-athletes made posters and put advertisements in school newsletters to encourage participation in the drive.

After watching a news interview where an unhoused neighbor explained that they always needed socks but often couldn’t find them, the poet-athletes focused on collecting the essential clothing items, in addition to other staples.

This simple but powerful action has enabled the students to make a big impact. “People see [unhoused people] as invisible,” says 4th-grader Julio, “it feels good to be able to help.”

Building Empathy

As the team prepared for the project, Puryear led empathy activities where poet-athletes were encouraged to imagine how it would feel to not be able to get warm in the winter, eat when they felt hungry, or access a bed when they were tired.

The exercises prompted the students to focus on their peers experiencing homelessness. “You never know, in the future, that could be you in that situation,” says Kacey, a 4-grader on the team. “It makes me feel good to know that if I was in a situation like that, other people would help me.”

Earlier this month, the team dropped off numerous boxes of goods to Sasha Bruce House, a shelter and service provider that supports unhoused and vulnerable children in DC. The poet-athletes also donated items to shelters serving unhoused adults living in proximity to Union Station.

For some Thomas poet-athletes, the project has personal meaning. “Somebody in my family was homeless before,” says 4-grader R. “Now they have what they need, I wanted to go back into the homeless community to help people like them.”

“We wanted the kids to know that [unhoused people] are people in their communities,” says Puryear. “They deserve a greeting as our students walk by them, just as our kids would expect for themselves.”

Finding Solutions

The donation drive is just the latest way the DC SCORES team at Thomas has made an impact on their community through DC SCORES. Last year, the squad worked on a letter-writing campaign that called on developers to build a grocery store in their area, which has a limited number of food outlets. They also planted a school garden to provide fresh produce for Thomas families.

In another project, Thomas poet-athletes informed their coaches that younger students were having trouble crossing the street to get to school. The team then spearheaded a student-led crossing guard system.

“As you start to do the research and start to talk to the kids, you find out about certain things that you would never have thought about,” Puryear says. “They see problems that we don’t.”

3-4777c7.png Thomas DC SCORES Coaches Chrystal Puryear, Torren Cooper, and Chiara Forte say that students are perfectly placed to identify and find solutions to issues in their community.

DC SCORES is making positive changes in the Thomas community in other ways, too.

“DC SCORES is a bridge with our parents, especially for parents who haven’t felt comfortable to have a relationship with our teachers,” says Puryear, who has the opportunity to connect with family members who come to cheer on their students at DC SCORES game days. “It shows families that we care for their kids in other ways, not just academically.”

DC SCORES is a space where children who face obstacles in conventional classroom settings can thrive, she adds. “We have children on our DC SCORES team with disabilities, some visible, some invisible,” Puryear explains. “DC SCORES lets us say we won’t stop an opportunity for kids in our school, regardless of where they fit in our learning program.”

And, for students who joined the DC SCORES program to play soccer, the service-learning project has enabled them to find a new passion. “I joined DC SCORES because I love soccer. It has taught me to help others through the community service,” says poet-athlete Amir. “My favorite thing about DC SCORES is helping people out!”

Previous post

Our Words Our City Performer Profile: Kollyn

Next post

DC SCORES Poet-Athletes Share Stage With Clint Smith at Our Words Our City 2023