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At the St. Pius X School in Yarmouth, students have set some lofty career goals. One wants to be an actress. Another wants to be an author.

Sixth grader Ana Wolfe, 11, wants to one day live in Washington D.C. where she hopes to serve as an ambassador to Paris, France. Why? “Because I love to do ballet and there are a lot of good ballet companies there,” she said.

Not one said they wanted to be homeless.

And if one were to visit the NOAH Shelter in Hyannis, the clients there would all admit that they never envisioned they would be homeless when they were the same age.

So on the Friday before Thanksgiving, those clients had some advice for a group of roughly 36 St. Pius students in fifth through eighth grade. They were simple, but powerful messages like:

  • Avoid drugs and alcohol
  • Get an education
  • Have compassion for people
  • Pay it forward
  • Set goals you can reach

Those messages were delivered to the students by NOAH Shelter director Greg Bar who took part in the school’s first-ever Cardboard City project that was aimed at introducing the idea of homelessness to the children.

In the days leading up to the event, students decorated their own individual cardboard boxes with some, like sixth grader Mary Skordas, opting to write inspirational quotes like this one from Anne Frank:

“No one has ever become poor by giving.”

And for a brief moment on one November night, students had a chance to empathize with the homeless by spending an hour in those boxes not long after having a basic meal of soup, sandwiches and fruit and hearing from Bar and Ginny Lewis of the Dennis Yarmouth Ecumenical Council for the Prevention of Homelessness (DYECH).

As to how people end up homeless, Bar said, it could be substance abuse, job loss or divorce. “There are a lot of situations out there and it is all sad. It is really sad,” he said. “When you end up at a place like the NOAH Shelter it is just the worst tragedy that has happened in your life.”

DSC 6865 resized 600Greg Bar addresses middle schoolers at St. Pius X School about homelessness on Cape Cod.

Maura Gogan, the business manager for St. Pius, served as the inspiration for the project based on a similar one she observed at a high school in Santa Clara, California, where she previously lived. There the students spent an entire weekend in a cardboard box to raise awareness and funds for the homeless situation in that West Coast city.

Having moved to Cape Cod two years ago, Gogan said, she was surprised to see so many homeless in this part of the state. She was hopeful that this project would inspire St. Pius students to “show compassion and empathize with the homeless,” she said. “Instead of ignoring them, they may now look at them as a person. And even if they can’t give them money, they can help them with a smile… Whatever they can give, hopefully they give from the heart.”

St. Pius teacher Christine Guzman took Gogan’s idea and ran with it, overseeing the students’ efforts which ended with some creating posters that will go in the NOAH Shelter and writing notes to shelter clients.

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For at least one student, fifth grader Morgan Silva (pictured above), 10, the project was the start of something bigger.

His goal is to one day open a shelter like NOAH or, at the least, offer the homeless a place to stay for a night or two. “I think we can really do more than what we’re doing,” he said. “I want to eradicate homelessness.”