Cardboard City informs students and advocates for change


Cardboard City partipants listen to guest speakers Mrs. Sally Millman, Mrs. Crystal Haslett and senior Molly Keating. Photo by Mrs. Carol Wagner

Belle deCastro

In the final days before fall break, BCHS students learned about eight different organizations that focus on helping the homeless get back on their feet. Later that evening, a group of students participated in what is known as Cardboard City.

This bi-annual event lasts for one night. In preparation for this one night, students are asked to bring the bare minimum: warm layers, a sleeping bag or pillow, a backpack for only homework, and a toothbrush or toothpaste. With only these few necessities from home, director of campus ministry Mrs. Carol Wagner would give students a varying amount of materials such as duct tape, cardboard and tarp to build a shelter for the night.

Juniors Mary Borchers and Belle deCastro pose for a picture during Cardboard City. Photo by Mrs. Carol Wagner

To kick off the night, the students first congregated in the chapel for a welcoming and a reflection led by Mrs. Wagner and Deacon Rick Wagner. Freshman Sylvie Kramer said, “The guided meditation was very relaxing and allowed me to understand what the rest of the night was going to be about.”

After the warm welcome and reflection, students regrouped by the concession stands near the football field. In the concession stands, Mrs. Wagner gave each student a different amount of materials to use for the construction of their shelter. Only limited to under the bleachers or along the fence, students broke off into groups to begin using what they each were given to create their shelter. While some students were given a large variety of supplies such as duct tape, cardboard, and tarp, junior Mary Borchers was given nothing. Mrs. Wagner wanted both to show students how some of the homeless are dealt with unfair circumstances and to get students to work together and help Borchers.

With a constructed Cardboard City, guest speakers Mrs. Crystal Haslett, Mrs. Sally Millman, and senior Molly Keating stopped by to talk to the group. Mrs. Haslett works at North Central High School as the social worker and helps assist teenagers who are homeless. She talked about how schools are working toward a better program that can accomodate for homeless students’ needs. Along with Mrs. Haslett, Mrs. Millman created the School on Wheels organization. Their mission is to is to “provide one-on-one tutoring and educational advocacy for school-aged children impacted by homelessness.” Keating is an active tutor for School on Wheels, so both her and Mrs. Millman reflected on the mission.

Junior Nate Schlabach said that the guest speakers did a great job talking with the students instead of just talking to them. He continued saying that after receiving a lot of information from the eight representatives earlier that school day, it was nice to “just actually have more of a conversation about it.”

As the night grew colder, the group of students grew closer. Junior Reese Kaminski said, “My friends made bearing the cold weather easier because we were all so close to each other which kept us warmer in the end.”

About half past nine, students huddled around the school doors in effort to connect to WiFi. It was already late, but students still had to complete what homework they had left from the school day. During this work time, the students had a few visitors. Senior Carmen Sullivan’s parents stopped by and gave students handmade brownies. Along with the Sullivans, theology teacher Mr. Matt Hilton and english teacher Mrs. Katie Hilton visited the students and gave them some snacks such as cupcakes and pretzels.

Before it was time to retreat into the shelters, Mrs. Wagner and Deacon Rick led the students to the chapel one last time for the night. This time in the chapel was used for adoration in which students reflected upon their current solidarity with the homeless. “It made me reflect on what the homeless go through everyday and how I should not take things for granted,” Kaminski said.

Juniors Dee Dee Caskey and Reese Kaminski practice adoration before heading outside for bed. Photo by Mrs. Carol Wagner

By the time adoration was over, it was about eleven o’clock. With a dropping temperature, it was finally time to go to sleep. The adult supervisors were Mrs. Wagner, Deacon Rick, science teacher Mrs. Kim Shaw, theater teacher Ms. Bri Lindsey, and social studies teacher Mr. Greg Miller. Each adult had rotating sleep schedules that allowed for at least two adults to be awake at all times throughout the night.

Students tossed and turned throughout the night. Some went to sleep immediately. Some talked with each other until they were too tired.  Some stayed awake restless. Kramer said, “The night was fun but it was difficult to get comfortable and stay warm to fall asleep. It made me realize how blessed I am to have a home to sleep in.”

By sunrise, the students were already up and ready to leave their makeshift shelters. They congregated in the chapel once more for a communion service led by Deacon Rick. After this service, students returned to their shelters, tore them down, and gathered up their supplies to return to Mrs. Wagner. Students were then given a long sleeve Cardboard City t-shirt to wear with sweatpants throughout the school day.

“Getting through the rest of the day was hard. I was so tired and hungry, and my head hurt so bad,” junior Katie Guymon said. To alleviate these effects of the homeless experience, Mrs. Wagner and Deacon Rick provided the group of students with food and drink at the end of the school day.

The topic of homelessness brings up many different connotations among people. Positive or negative, people formulate their own judgements about the homeless often times without even interacting with one. Through the Cardboard City experience, students were afforded the opportunity to experience a homeless simulation that would help them better this understanding of the homeless.

Junior Reagan Behringer said, “That night was a huge eye opener for me. Only having to experience this for one night reassured me that I can get through it. But since the homeless do not know when the next time they’ll be able to sleep safely and comfortably makes this whole experience very surreal and allows me to get a sense of what it’s like to be homeless.”