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Homelessness Awareness Month Special: Meet the Two Teens Behind Help Homeless Cleveland!

We’ve partnered with Help Homeless Cleveland, an organization working to minimize the effects of homelessness across Northeast Ohio, to offer limited-time homelessness awareness packages through November! Check out natureofkindness.org/shop-all to order a package. 50% of proceeds go to benefit Help Homeless Cleveland’s shelter of choice: Laura’s Home, a local crisis center for women and children. Don’t forget to learn more about Help Homeless Cleveland at their website, linktr.ee/hh.inc.cle.


With Cleveland’s poverty rate being one of the highest among large United States cities, it’s safe to say that homelessness has become a rapidly growing issue in the Northeast Ohio community. That’s why Sophy Gao and Emily Wilson, high school juniors and homelessness awareness advocates, decided to start Help Homeless Cleveland: a chapter of the overarching organization Help Homeless Inc., which aims to minimize homelessness across the U.S.’s major cities through fundraising and educational outreach events.


Sophy, as the executive director of the organization, cited the wealth disparity in the Cleveland area, specifically Shaker Heights, as instrumental in her decision to launch Help Homeless Cleveland. She noted that Cleveland has long been “a direct product of gentrification:” a process in which new and affluent residents to a community renovate the area, further displacing those already living in poverty. This problem, however, is often overshadowed by the homelessness and income maldistribution in larger Midwestern cities, like Detroit and NYC.


“We’re always focusing on areas that are farther away from us, rather than what we can handle as a community here,” Sophy said. And yet, the most influential changes often begin at a local level, where we are most impacted.


Besides their Cleveland roots, the Help Homeless chapter takes pride in another aspect of their identity: their all-female executive team, who manages everything from finances to outreach. The team believes in empowering others not only based on their socioeconomic status, but their gender as well. For their first several fundraisers–– coming in the forms of local restaurant partnerships and bracelet sales at Shaker Square’s summer markets –– they have opted to donate proceeds to Laura’s Home, a crisis center for women and children in the area.


Moving forward, the team hopes to expand their efforts beyond fundraising. They recently received a grant from ALDI to support the health and well-being of kids across Cleveland, and they’re hoping to do more community-based events themed around homelessness awareness. Social media has also become a valuable tool for them during the pandemic. Every week, the team shares different educational resources on Instagram (@helphomelesscle), from the relationship between foster care and homelessness to veteran homelessness statistics, and they’re hoping to continue that as the organization grows.


“We did a special post on the Cleveland mayor race and the candidates’ stances on homelessness to get the local community more involved [with the election] and raise awareness for something that’s very overlooked,” said Emily, describing the Instagram series as one of her favorites so far.


As they expand upon these fundraising and educational efforts, Emily and Sophy note that one of the most rewarding parts of their jobs–– aside from helping to minimize the homelessness problem in Cleveland–– is connecting with great youth volunteers as they do it. They’re always talking with the other Help Homeless chapters online, where chapter members enthusiastically share their latest updates.


“Even if it’s been a bad or more exhausting week, people are always excited about what they’re doing,” said Sophy. “It’s really exciting to see a bunch of high school students passionate about an issue that’s so immediate and pressing for our community.”


Emily agreed, adding, “There’s a lot more support locally–– within your own school, your own grade, your own classroom–– than you [may think] when you get [an organization or initiative] started, and there are so many people interested and willing to be involved and do the work.”


To other youth advocates looking to make a difference in their communities, the two say, just do it.

“Follow what you’re passionate about,” said Emily. “The things that we [youth leaders] are doing, when you stop back and look at them, are really powerful forces of change.”


Sophy agreed. “It’s never too early to get started. If you have that passion, go for it. You never know what will happen.”


Remember to support Help Homeless Cleveland by visiting their website, linktr.ee/hh.inc.cle, and Instagram, @helphomelesscle. Our exclusive HH CLE x Nature of Kindness packages can be ordered at natureofkindness.org.

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