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Program that helps enough homeless students in Clay County to fill elementary school wins award

Project REACH gets kids who are homeless or in transitional living situations the support and supplies they need.

CLAY COUNTY, Fla — Hundreds of students in Clay County District Schools are experiencing homelessness and those who work with them say the affordable housing crisis is only making matters worse.

A program that's making a big difference just won an award and will receive $2,000.

Florida has the fourth highest number of homeless students, more than 90,000, according to the United States Interagency on Homelessness. 

The number of homeless kids Project REACH works with in Clay County could fill an elementary school.

"We have a lot of families that live in hotels," said Carolina Thompson, Project REACH Coordinator for Clay County District Schools. "A lot of families that have moved in with other friends or family members due to a hardship, we have families that are living in domestic violence shelters or transition shelters. Unfortunately sometimes we do have families that don't live in shelters at all. They'll be living in their cars or sometimes in shacks."

Project REACH gets kids who are homeless or in transitional living situations the support and supplies they need.

"We help kids get graphing calculators so they can take honors classes and then we see them accel in math and science and we're like, all they needed was the graphing calculator," Thompson said. "They were smart, they just couldn't afford it."

Thompson says Project REACH is working with nearly 850 students experiencing some type of homelessness and more than 600 are students in the public school system. She says this year they have around 70 unaccompanied youth that are seniors. 

With the $2,000 the program is receiving in award money from the annual Celebrate Clay awards, they'll be able to help with more needs than school supplies.

"If they want to go to a dance and they need a prom dress we can get them that," Thompson said. "If they need food or clothes we can get them that. If they need shoes we can get them that. Anything that's not education-related that we know is going to help them, that we know that they need, we'll be able to fund it through that money."

Thompson is here to help, but she says the best feeling is when families don't need her help anymore.

Another group to win an award along with Project REACH is McRae Elementary School’s Weekend Food Program. They get bags of food to students to make sure they don't go hungry over the weekend.

Contact Thompson at carolina.thompson@myoneclay.net or call 904-336-1346, extension 6 1346, if you want to donate to Project REACH.

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