High school athletes donate 1,000 sweatshirts to highlight student homelessness

Over a dozen Chicago high school soccer players wanted the donation to highlight teen homelessness, which affected nearly 40,000 Illinois students in the last school year.

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Izzy Strnic carries a box of donated sweatshirts into the Lincoln Park Community Services building, at 1521 N. Sedgwick on the North Side, Sunday, November 27, 2022. Students from across the Chicago area schools donated sweatshirts that will be given to teens suffering from homelessness.

Izzy Strnic carries a box of donated sweatshirts into the Lincoln Park Community Services building, at 1521 N. Sedgwick on the North Side, Sunday, November 27, 2022. Students from across the Chicago area schools donated sweatshirts that will be given to teens suffering from homelessness.

Anthony Vazquez/ Sun-Times

Jonathan Rodriguez had peers in high school who were homeless — but he didn’t know they were homeless until they shared that intimate detail with him.

“They try to hide it,” said Rodriguez, a student at Northwestern University.

Some homeless teens struggle with divorced parents, “or they just can’t make it home because of a bad situation,” he said. “It’s something that resonates with me.”

Rodriguez and over a dozen Chicago high school soccer players donated 1,000 sweatshirts Sunday at Lincoln Park Community Services, 1521 N. Sedgwick.

They collected the sweatshirts Friday at the not-for-profit Buddy’s Helpers’ annual college soccer recruiting event in McCook, where 200 players from across the state came together.

Rodriguez and others wanted the donation to highlight teen homelessness, which affected nearly 40,000 Illinois students in the last school year, according to the National Center for Homeless Education.

Student volunteers sort through boxes of donated sweatshirts outside the Lincoln Park Community Services building at 1521 N. Sedgwick on the North Side, Sunday, November 27, 2022. Students from across the Chicago area schools donated sweatshirts that will be given to teens suffering from homelessness.

Student volunteers sort through boxes of donated sweatshirts outside the Lincoln Park Community Services building at 1521 N. Sedgwick on the North Side, Sunday, November 27, 2022. Students from across the Chicago area schools donated sweatshirts that will be given to teens suffering from homelessness.

Anthony Vazquez/ Sun-Times

“Homelessness doesn’t just mean standing on a street corner or on Lower Wacker Drive. It can be someone who’s couch-surfing, who may have to be in their car,” said Joe Trost, director of Buddy’s Helpers.

“One thing these students athletes wanted to do was use the symbol of a sweatshirt to not only help homeless people ... but to bring attention to teen homelessness,” Trost said.

At least one in 30 kids ages 13 to 17 experience some form of homelessness unaccompanied by a parent or guardian over the course of a year, according to one 2017 study. About 3% of homes with teens reported a teen either running away or being asked to leave, according to the study. And about 1.3% of homes reported teen homelessness by way of couch-surfing.

Boxes of donated sweatshirts sit outside the Lincoln Park Community Services building at 1521 N. Sedgwick on the North Side, Sunday, November 27, 2022. Students from across the Chicago area schools donated sweatshirts that will be given to teens suffering from homelessness.

Boxes of donated sweatshirts sit outside the Lincoln Park Community Services building at 1521 N. Sedgwick on the North Side, Sunday, November 27, 2022. Students from across the Chicago area schools donated sweatshirts that will be given to teens suffering from homelessness.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Alma Cruz, a preschool teacher who was part of the sweatshirt donation program, said “it brings so much happiness to my heart when I see high school students making a difference on and off the field.”

“You never know the impact you can make ... It’s a very hard time right now. A lot of people are struggling, especially teens. I don’t think we put enough emphasis on making sure teens are OK,” Cruz said.

Izzy Strnic, a soccer player at Nazareth Academy, was at Friday’s donation collection event. “I’m really grateful I could donate and be part of the community of people working around this,” she said.

Mia Loza, who plays at De La Salle High School, said “We’re blessed today with tons of sweatshirts to give back to our community.”

Donations can be sent to Lincoln Park Community Services at its website here. Buddy’s Helpers accepts donations seasonally at its website here.

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