As of Monday, Oct. 28, the National Weather Service was predicting an overnight low on Saturday, Nov. 2, of 32 degrees. Cold enough for a hard frost.
A lot of people in DuPage County might light a fire, snuggle under a blanket with their kids and watch a movie. Cold isn't scary, it's cozy.
Unless you're homeless.
Nearly 1,300 DuPage County students know the fear a cold night can bring. That's how many kids are homeless in DuPage. They might not all be sleeping outside; they may be on couches or in shelters somewhere, but it's colder for them no matter where they "live."
The temperature on Nov. 2 is significant because it is the night of the 10th annual Sleep Out Saturday, Bridge Communities' coordinated event to bring attention to homelessness and raise money to help those who need a leg up. Thousands of people all over DuPage will be sleeping outside—in boxes, tents, cars—and each of them, in the process, is raising money for Bridge.
Glenbard West sophomore Taskeen Khan was drawn to this particular charity because Bridge Communities doesn't just offer a few nights in a shelter or a free meal from time to time. Bridge sticks with families for two full years if they need it, providing assistance with education, job skills, food—basic needs to help them get back on their feet.
Taskeen has not only formed a Sleep Out team at her school, she's working on getting lots of other schools set up to seamlessly help Bridge Communities, as well.
"I wanted to come up with a way schools could repeatedly help—not just a one-time thing," she said.
Taskeen and her leadership team at Glenbard West, composed of fellow sophomores Clair Tylke, Diana Rivera and Jeremie Barbosa, created a template on how to support Bridge Communities.
"Then we gave that to other schools," she said. "That way, the other schools don't have to start from scratch.
"We tell them what our school is doing: Here's how you ask your school, here's how you raise money, here's the email you send out to everyone. They just follow the template."
Thanks to her efforts, the annual Bridge Communities event can become part of a school's culture.
"We wanted to try to make it into something that's always there," she said.
She's helped galvanize teams at Naperville North High School, Hinsdale Central High School, Avery Coonley School and the Islamic Foundation School in Villa Park.
Taking the fund-raising a step further, she's also reached out to her mosque, Muslim Society Inc. Using social media, that group had surpassed $1,000 in donations as of Sunday night.
Throughout DuPage, some 2,000 people will be sleeping out in parking lots and yards Saturday. But first, participants will meet for a rally at 7 p.m. in downtown Glen Ellyn. Bridge Communities headquarters, at 505 Crescent Blvd., will be ground zero for the rally, which will be hosted by NBC5 anchor Stefan Holt.
The rally will feature live music, testimonials from Bridge Communities clients and more.
Taskeen and her group will continue their fund-raising efforts at the rally with a bake sale. Then they will settle in for the night in their tents, which will be set up at St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Glen Ellyn.
Taskeen has come a long way from the days when she and her brother, 11-year-old Yousuf, a Hadley student, collected donations for Bridge Communities while trick-or-treating. So far this year, Taskeen and Yousuf have cumulatively raised $3,335.00 for the homeless in only about 10 days. And she plans to increase her efforts even more next year, because the mission of Bridge Communities is so important.
“People often don’t realize that there are homeless families and children in our area,” Mark Milligan, co-founder and president of Bridge Communities, said in a prepared statement. “But we help many families who had a life trauma like illness or unemployment that threw them into poverty."
Since its first event in 2003, 9,500 people have slept out to raise more than $800,000 for Bridge Communities’ Transitional Housing Program, which serves more than 120 families annually, according to information provided by Bridge Communities. The program provides about two years of housing, life-skills mentoring, financial counseling, employment training, tutoring and an auto repair and donation program.
With clients having an even harder time maintaining employment and making ends meet, Bridge Communities continues to increase the services it provides.
"They give someone a chance to get back on their feet," Taskeen said. "If you give someone temporary housing, it will help them for a day, but they probably will fall back into their previous situation. This way, you're really giving someone a step up, and you're really helping them keep going even after you're no longer helping them directly."
Everyone in DuPage County is invited to participate in Sleep Out Saturday or to make a contribution. To donate to the Glenbard West Team, visit the team's web page at www.bridgecommunities.org/TEAMWEST. And, be sure to check out Sleep Out Saturday on Facebook, www.facebook.com/SleepOutForBridge.