Family Focus

Foundation helps homeless Charlotte children read, learn, thrive

When many think of homelessness, they might imagine men and women sleeping on a sidewalk, an emergency shelter or a car.

But consider another scenario, an 8-year-old girl living in a motel room with her siblings and parents.

This family is real, and so are the stress and uncertainty that affect the family’s mental health and physical well-being.

In Charlotte, there is unseen homelessness hiding in hotels and motels.

In many cases, couples and families get crowded into these places after a recent eviction or financial woes that make it difficult to be tenants elsewhere.

For many homeless children, negative impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic on early literacy may be unavoidable.

But the Prodigal Son Foundation is working with children without a permanent home through a community initiative coordinated by Read Charlotte that encourages Mecklenburg County families (with pre-K to third grade students) to get a free reading checkup.

A child completes two online quizzes, then parents/caretakers receive recommendations for specific reading skills to focus on while choosing from targeted activities that meet the child’s needs.

The Prodigal Son Foundation has set up a learning center at the expansive facilities at Northside Baptist Church.

“If we can make sure that students are at reading level by third grade, they will have a much greater chance of success in life,” Wray said. “This gives us true insight to where the students stand and how we can help them learn.”

The students in the program get academic enrichment. Also, it helps students build confidence and self-management skills through enrichment opportunities to complement the students’ regular academic program.

“We want to do our part to try and improve lives and strengthen our community,” said Veronica Washington, community engagement coordinator for Northside Baptist Church.

Getting help from charities is a way to help motel dwellers break the cycle of what seems to be a no-win living situation.

On Saturday, team members from the Prodigal Son Foundation joined a collaboration of organizations to supply clothing, food, reading materials and social service resources to the residents of a motel in the Hidden Valley community in Charlotte.

In North Carolina, nearly 30,000 students who attend public school in pre-K through 12th grade have been identified as homeless, and 73% of North Carolina’s families with homeless students lived “doubled-up” with family or friends.

This neighborhood collaboration with Northside Baptist Church originally began to help students identified under the McKinney-Vento Act.

The McKinney-Vento Act is a federal law that makes sure children and youths who do not have permanent housing can go to school and preschool.

“Helping families thrive in light of so much uncertainty, especially children and youth who live in a hotel or on a family member’s floor, is critical work,” Washington said.

Charlotte was facing an affordable housing crisis before COVID-19. The situation has only become more challenging for those who lost jobs, had their income reduced or suffered a health crisis due to the pandemic. Many now find themselves on the verge of homelessness.

The need for help in Carolina communities continues to grow because of the financial ramifications of the coronavirus.

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused unprecedented challenges for communities across the country, but this partnership is easing the burden for some students and families.

If you have an inspiring story to share, email Kevin Campbell, WSOC-TV/WAXN-TV/Telemundo Charlotte public affairs manager, at

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