Some days just stand out and this particular Tuesday was one of those days! Lynne, founder of Wear Love® (a vintage inspired t shirt company), and I met with the founder of School on Wheels of Massachusetts, Cheryl Opper, to exchange stories and get to know more about their program. She gave us a tour of their home-site in Brockton, MA. and recalled where her journey with School on Wheels (SOWMA) has taken her.
Pointing to framed pictures of students on the walls and pausing to appreciate a tender poem written by one of their volunteers. Story after story, Cheryl Opper’s heart for the students and volunteers at SOWMA became evident. Though the program was designed to provide academic support through tutoring, there is far more to it than meets the eye. As Cheryl revealed the secrets of the program’s success, love was apparent in every aspect of their mission. The program has inspired, educated, served, loved, and provided support to over 1,384 vulnerable children, uncertain of their future. Simply put, it has changed lives. There is nothing like compelling and inspirational stories, and Cheryl was brimming with them. The first story she shared took us back to November 2003. She was flipping through a Family Circle magazine on her kitchen counter and happened upon “Lessons in Love”, an article written about a woman from California who noticed the hardship and lack of provision homeless children faced during the school year. Out of her humble trailer home in 1993, Agnes Stevens, a retired nun and educator, began School on Wheels. The program provided backpacks, tutoring, rides to school, and lots of love to homeless children. As an educator herself, Cheryl was compelled by what she read of Agnes’ acts of selfless love and wanted to bring the program to Massachusetts.
Only a fourth of homeless teens in the US graduate from high school and there are over 50,000 homeless children in the Massachusetts public school system alone. The average age of homelessness? Age 8. Knowing this, Cheryl Opper understood that someone needed to dedicate time, resources and love in order to see improvements. After talking to Agnes Stevens and the board of School on Wheels of California, she started School on Wheels of Massachusetts, from humble beginnings – in the basement of her home, but heartily bursting with compassion and vision.
Since the program began here in 2004, 3,903 personalized backpacks have been stuffed with school-essentials and freely given to homeless children, and 1,225 volunteers have been trained for tutoring students at the twenty-one various tutor sites in Massachusetts. Not only do they tutor students and provide for school needs, they offer consistent commitment to the child’s education and assistance to families. “What makes us different and unique from other programs is that when our students move, we move with them. And so, we decided to provide that long-term support and stability over a longer period of time,” Cheryl explained to me after mentioning a student they tutored from 9th grade until the end of high school. Commitment has a beautiful way of saying “you are worth it”, and produces stability in a homeless child’s life. It is an act of love. In order to convey to students that they are important and can have a brighter future, SOWMA tutors meet with a child twice a week to tutor, listen, love, and check-in. If a child has to move to a different shelter, the tutors who visit him weekly will continue to meet with him despite the change of location.
An inspiring testimony of the program’s direction-changing love and commitment is that of Tayler Sabella, who Cheryl mentioned fondly as we toured her building. Tayler, once a homeless teen living in a shelter with her father and younger sister, has now graduated from high school and gone to college, thanks to SOWMA. She was only fourteen the year her father lost his job and their house, forcing them to live in a shelter. At the shelter, Tayler and her sister discovered School on Wheels and began the tutoring program and continued with it even after they moved out of the shelter. School on Wheels provided transportation so the girls could continue their education without changing schools and went above and beyond to give them what they needed to succeed. Tayler’s tutors were there for her through the hardest times and all through her high school career, helping pay for Tayler’s uniforms, homecoming dress, cosmetology supplies for courses, and her school yearbook. She became a tutor herself her senior year of high school, making it apparent how much the program impacted her life.
The decision SOWMA has made to persist in tutoring the child, even if they leave the shelter, is the secret to their success and delivers long-term results that School on Wheels desires with every student. Cheryl is most concerned about being able to provide academic stability throughout the child’s entire education. Cheryl put it this way:
“Love doesn’t have a period at the end. And so, we’re not putting a period on it, any of it, for any of our kids. We want our kids to have what they need, when they need it.” -Cheryl Opper Tayler Sabella, along with many others, is a testimony to the program’s magnanimous love and dedication to see children succeed, whatever the cost. And love always pays off. There is an African proverb that says:”If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” We were so inspired by Cheryl Opper and her team at SOWMA, Wear Love® will proudly donate $10.00 from the sale of every wear Love® shirt to School on Wheels Massachusetts the entire month of November.*For more inspiration and information please visit: http://www.sowma.org. *To shop: wear Love® *To read more of Tayler Sabella’s amazing story: http://bit.ly/1nrzWd1
Recently I invited my little neighbor friends over some wear Love® fun. Who wants to plant some flowers? Sit in a bird bath? Eat some ice cream?? Five of the cutest, sweetest little girls arrived with buns and bows, put on their wear Love® t shirts and off they went. They wandered around the yard, held hands, planted flowers and sat together in my garden chair. They talked and laughed.. fully engaged and in the moment. Fun. Kind. Pure. It looked a lot like love.
Well, it’s true girls just “wanna” have fun. It’s also true they love surprises, so I spread a tablecloth and brought out a tray with ice cream cones set in tin cans, bright red flowers as our centerpiece and red and white polka dot napkins to wipe drippy faces. What happened next was priceless. Two year old Kadence (how cute is that!!) seeing the ice cream, put her hands to her face, eyes wide, gasped as if on cue, “OH MY GOODNESS”!! Surprised by love? You bet! Did she miss it? Not for a second.
Many times love shows up in a gentle hug, attending a hurt, a sweet assurance. Other times it is served up in the middle of an ordinary day, on a bright tray, in shiny bowls with all the toppings. And yes, it is just for you.. because that’s what love does…
Celebrate the moment. Love life. Love others. Wear Love®
Wear Love® would like to introduce you to a very talented young lady!! Toni Noe is an eighteen year old photographer who has been shooting some wear Love® photo’s for us! Despite all the snow, bare trees and cold temps, she has managed to coerce her adorable sister to sit on some railroad tracks and model a few of our newer items. Thank you Toni for sharing your talent with us!
We asked Toni to tell us a little about herself so here goes! Toni: “I’ve been growing where I was planted in a small town where the ladies at the post office know my first name and I can drive you through all of the backroads blind folded (although I wouldn’t do that to you). I’ve been photographing my life and everything in it since I was thirteen years old and two years ago it became a part time job. I bounce all around with my photos and I’m always ready for a new and different subject, constantly testing my skills and limits. I’ve recently been presented with the opportunity to be the photographer for Wear Love® and it’s definitely the best job I’ve had to date. The artistic freedom I’ve been given only drives my passion more and I look forward to all of my future adventures with the company.
Thanks for taking the time to check out my stuff and remember to constantly spread love, be love, and wear love.
After researching many charities and organizations, all of which do amazing work, we discovered an extraordinary attraction to RESTORE INTERNATIONAL.
Would you like to know how we found them?
We read a little New York Times best seller titled LOVE DOES (by Bob Goff), and here is a little glimpse of what captured our attention:
Restore International not only educates kids at the Restore Leadership Academy in Uganda but they train leaders thru action. Read their not so typical, awesome sponsorship model straight from the pages of LOVE DOES…
“we are asking these kids to ignore what’s typical too. We want them to be leaders thru action, not just in name. Sponsorship programs are common in developing countries. For $30.00 or so a month, it is not unusual for a child to have a sponsor in the United States to help with school fees. We got the kids together and told them how our sponsorship program was going to work. We gave our kids some seeds, they planted the seeds, they raised the crops, they sold the crops, and with the money, our kids from Restore Leadership Academy in Uganda sponsor a little skater kid in Oregon through The Mentoring Project, a fantastic organization out of Oregon that helps kids without dads. These Ugandan kids looked through the other end of the telescope and wanted to make sure that other kids could have the same input from mentors that they are getting!”
How cool is that?
Restore International has worked with Uganda’s judiciary in more than two hundred cases to free children from wrongful imprisonment without trial. In 2007, The Restore Academy was started, a school in the war-torn region of Gulu, with a current enrollment of 220 students. In India, Restore has intervened to relieve minor girls from a life of forced prostitution, leading to the identification and arrest of over fifty perpetrators.
wear Love® is a for profit company. For every product sold we donate $3.00 to Restore International. Wear Love® donates $10.00 for every veteran t-shirt sold to The Adam Brown Legacy Foundation. Wear Love® donates shirts, time and other resources to help local and other various charities and organizations fundraise. If you would like more information please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Veteran’s Day is Monday, November 12, and we sure do have a heart for our service men and women.
For every shirt that’s sold, we will donate $10.00 to the Adam Brown Legacy Foundation!
Head on over to our website to purchase yours today!
Happy Halloween! Our favorite “treat” today is that we are featured by the fabulous Shannon at The Scribble Pad Blog!
Shannon blogs about life in Washington, DC, her family, and her wonderful paper store with custom paper products. Don’t forget to check it out!