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A foundation for education
Erica Glenn believes kids do better in school when they have a home. So, she helps get them one.
Erica Glenn is program coordinator for the Helping to Open Possibilities Through Education for Homeless Children and Youth, which works to give homeless children the support they need to keep them enrolled in school. - photo by Tom Reed

GAINESVILLE — When Erica Glenn began college she had big plans — and none of them involved working with homeless children.

But in the past 10 years, helping homeless children and families has become Glenn’s passion.

She is the program coordinator for the Helping to Open Possibilities Through Education for Homeless Children and Youth (HOPE) that works with the Gainesville and Hall County schools.

Glenn graduated from Grambling State University in Louisiana with a degree in biology, prepared for a career in teaching.

But instead of working in the classroom, Glenn found her calling looking out for kids outside of the schools.

"I really do take my job seriously and I really do have a passion for the children," Glenn said. "I actually work for the (Georgia) Department of Education through a joint grant for the city and the county and it’s for the homeless children and youth just to make sure that they are enrolled in school without any barriers."

The HOPE program stems from the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act which was the first, and remains the only, major federal legislative response to homelessness, according to www.

Glenn’s office is housed at Enota Multiple Intelligences Academy but her job spans throughout the county as she helps students and families and teaches them about local nonprofit agencies who can offer assistance.

"So my job is to make people aware of how broad the definition of homeless is," she said. "Many people think you have to be out on the street to be homeless. It’s so hard, I have to teach case by case because so many situations are not the same."

Glenn said homelessness can be defined by multiple families living in the same home, families living in extended stay hotels and transitional housing or shelters.

"Any type of guardian that doesn’t have legal guardianship of the children in the home would be identified as unaccompanied youth and therefore those kids can be identified as homeless," Glenn said.

Glenn is a part of many local nonprofit agencies but works closely with the Georgia Mountain Food Bank, which should be open in about a year.

"We found out about Erica because of her position with the Gainesville City and Hall County Schools’ HOPE program and have been just delighted to have her on board with us," said Kay Blackstock, the project coordinator for the Georgia Mountain Food Bank and administrative assistant with the North Georgia Community Foundation. "She does a tremendous outreach to these students and their families. She’s just a give-it-all person, a real compassionate heart and a real gift for what she does and a really strong component to this food bank board."

The Georgia Mountain Food Bank is still in the process of finding a location and acquiring their nonprofit designation, but Blackstock said she is excited about the upcoming possibilities in Hall County.

"Hall County is so fortunate to have so many valuable resources," she said. "That meaning volunteers, that meaning centrally located, a host of food distribution organizations that have offices here in Hall County."

The food bank will serve anyone who needs food assistance, including shelters, senior centers, group homes, treatment centers and churches.

Glenn agreed the Hall County community has a wealth of resources for those in need.

"(Hall County) is very rich in community resources," she said. "That is why I constantly talk to the United Way, the Salvation Army, Catholic Charities, St. Paul’s — anybody I can direct people to for help."

There have been times over the years that Glenn has worked with Salvation Army case worker Kathy McPherson to help struggling families.

"Basically if she hears about anybody in the school system, a family that needs anything, she will refer them here," McPherson said. "She’ll talk to me and find out information; she is kind of like a intermediary for me on a lot of things ... I know she cares."

The Salvation Army in Gainesville has a shelter offering transitional housing along with a food pantry.

"With temporary housing, if they go through the program they can stay up to three months," McPherson said. "It is a work program and they have to come here and they are either are employed — and it is for families with children only — or they have to find employment to continue to stay here. The main thing is to get savings started."

Glenn’s most recent project is with the Kiwanis Club of Gainesville to build and provide transitional housing for families who are having financial difficulty. The project is through the Kiwanis Cares program, which helps support underprivileged children and families.

Because Georgia has pulled funding from the HOPE program to provide money specifically to families for housing and utilities, Kiwanis Cares is a way for Glenn to continue to aid the homeless.

"In the past we were able to help with things like rent, utilities and deposits, but now the state department is saying you can’t do that anymore and your main focus is the child’s education," Glenn said. "So all monies that we receive totally go toward education.

"It’s kind of tricky because we really don’t focus on the family but we do focus on the family ... my main focus is to make sure that child is getting an education, they are getting transportation, free lunch, tutorials if they are falling behind, anything extracurricular as long as it is enhancing their academic success."