University of Vermont

CESS Early Childhood Special Education students join COTS Walk

CESS COTS Walk students
(top row L to R) Rebecca Condon, Deanna Lieberman, Nicole Franco, Haley Smola, Lily Pigue, Carly Doyle and Shelby Sprung (bottom row left) Allison Myers, Allie Goldberg and Dr. Jennifer Hurley.

Several CESS Early Childhood Special Education students joined more than 1500 other supporters of the Committee on Temporary Shelter (COTS), for its annual COTS Walk in early May.  The students were members of AFFECT (Advocates for Exceptional Children Today), a UVM club that put in hundreds of volunteer hours at the COTS family shelter in the spring, bringing art, cooking, outdoor, and other fun activities to do with the children at the shelter. 

The students said that they did the walk not only to raise money, but also to increase awareness about how homelessness impacts young children and families.  They said that next year they plan on raising more money by involving more students and making more signs advertising the walk and the important work being done by COTS.  They also intend to make the COTS Walk an annual event for AFFECT.

The Walk is COTS’ largest single-day fundraiser all year, and this years Walk helped the organization close in on its goal to raise $175,000.  COTS mission is a critical one, especially during the current protracted economic downturn.  By providing emergency shelter, services, and housing for people who are homeless or marginally housed in Vermont, COTS provides an important service to the growing number of homeless people in Vermont. 

And it is a Vermont problem that does not appear to be going away any time soon.  According to The State of Homelessness in America 2013, published by the National Alliance to End Homelessness, and the Homelessness Research Institute, Vermont’s overall homelessness increased during the 2011-2012 period by 1.4% while decreasing nationally by 0.4%.  The number of chronic homelessness in Vermont increased by 102.1% compared to the national average of +6.8%.   And for Veterans, a particularly vulnerable group, Vermont saw an increase of 34.6% compared to a drop nationally of 7.2%. 

There is some better news, if it can be called that.  This past year saw the percentage of sheltered family households in Vermont increase by 8.2% compared to +0.6% nationally.  This is a positive sign for organizations like COTS who provide shelter for families, and groups such as AFFECT who volunteer their time and effort in support.  But as AFFECT students would be first to proclaim, there is much more work to be done, given that homelessness of unsheltered family households in Vermont rose by 81.3% during the past year, compared to the national average of +0.6%.

Support next year for the good work being done by AFFECT and the students in the Early Childhood Special Education program will come from a $1.25 million grant to cover ESCE students’ senior year tuition received from the OSEP (Office of Special Education Programs) from the US Department of Education.  Dr. Jennifer Hurley, the PI on the grant, says, “One of the main reasons we got the money is because we are focusing pre-service teacher course content and field experiences on when homelessness and disability overlap for families of young children who receive early intervention (birth to three) or early childhood special education (three to six years) services.”  She adds, “most of the students in the above photo applied for and are receiving funding for their senior year next year on the grant.” 

A winning formula for all involved in this worthy effort.