Sleeping outside as the winter air chills the night probably isn’t a comforting thought, but for some local children it’s an everyday reality.
Rayn Boncie, founder and CEO of Things of My Very Own, Inc., found that out firsthand outside of Broadway Used Tires on Thursday, Dec. 20. The Sleep Out event her nonprofit hosted was aimed at raising awareness about homeless youth throughout the Capital District and soliciting donations of winter clothing and coats for children in need. About a dozen volunteers and supporters joined her chilly vigil.
Several months ago, the nonprofit depleted its inventory of winter items and struggled to get more. The event was exceeding Boncie’s expectations early in the night, with her truck nearly filled with donations, but she was learning how it felt to be homeless.
“I can tell you right now, we are going to have some changes in our homeless packages,” Boncie said. “We are adults and we are doing this one night, but we have children that are as young as 4 and 5 years old that don’t have preparatory time … they have no idea what they’re in for.”
For the Sleep Out, participants only used items clients would be receiving. There were sleeping bags, but not much else to provided a good night’s rest.
“I made sure whatever I wear or sleep with is only what we provide to our clients, so I could get to experience their life with what we provide,” Boncie said.
Things of My Very Own is a referral-based program that provides crisis intervention services and programs to children and families across 10 counties, with 70 percent of its clients in Schenectady County. Within four hours of referral, items such as clothing, outerwear, school supplies and hygiene products are distributed to children in emergency situations. Around 5,000 clients under 21 years old are served annually.
Boncie said families are often unaware of programs that exist to shelter non-abusive family members and their children.
“A lot of our clients when they are fleeing, especially domestic violence situations, fear that when they get help that child protective services will separate their families,” Boncie said. “They end up homeless, because they don’t have another avenue that they know of.”
She added while there are lots of charities helping children this time of year, sometimes toys are the last thing on a child’s mind.
“It is right before Christmas and everyone is thinking toys … but we need to be able to sustain these children,” she said.
Jerry and Rachel Williams drove from Ticonderoga to participate in the event after helping Boncie plan it.
“Homelessness has been a big deal for us and it has been something we are talking about and working on the past couple of years,” Jerry Williams said. “Even though we both have jobs our house was foreclosed, so we are like, ‘We understand this to a point.’”
Williams said it is hard for people to fathom there are children in the area who have nothing.
“These are the people that tend to fall through the cracks … because a parent doesn’t want to tell people that they have a child and they are having trouble,” he said.
He said sacrificing one night was small compared to what some families go through.
“We can come out and be here one night, some of these families don’t have that choice,” he said. “It is important to get out there and put a face to this … it is a hidden problem and we know that it exists.”
Anyone interested in donating items or volunteering for Things of My Very Own should visit its website at www.tomvo.org.