July 3, 2019

Homefront Celebrates Multiple Graduations: Preschoolers, High Schoolers, and Adults

“MOVING ON, MOVING UP”: Happy preschoolers Mars, left, and Josiah celebrate their graduation from HomeFront’s Atkinson Child Development Center at the HomeFront Family Campus in Ewing. Last month HomeFront also held a graduation ceremony for 10 adult Hire Expectations program participants, who received high school equivalency diplomas, and celebrated the graduations from local area high schools of many HomeFront alumni. (Photo by Terrance Harris)

By Donald Gilpin

HomeFront celebrated a wide array of graduations last month, with preschoolers moving on, ten adults receiving their high school equivalency diplomas, and a large contingent of HomeFront alumni graduating from local area high schools.

On June 28 at The Atkinson Child Development Center on the HomeFront Family Campus in Ewing, preschoolers participated in a “Moving On, Moving Up” ceremony.

On June 27, HomeFront’s Hire Expectations program students participated in a graduation ceremony to receive their New Jersey high school equivalency diplomas. And at graduation ceremonies at Trenton Central, Nottingham, Hopewell, and Princeton High Schools over the past month, diplomas were awarded to a number of students who had attended HomeFront’s nursery school or its Joy, Hopes and Dreams enrichment program for school-aged children.

“It’s hard to explain the joy that comes from seeing kids I had in preschool 13 years ago walk the stage as they graduate from high school, and hearing they are headed off to college,” said HomeFront Lead Preschool Teacher Shaneica Kutisha.

Emphasizing the importance of preschool education, particularly for homeless children, Kutisha continued, “As you can imagine, children that have experienced trauma have a lot of emotional setbacks that can overshadow their social and academic development. As HomeFront staff, we have been trained to recognize and address those signs of trauma so the children feel comfortable and safe in our enriching learning center.”

HomeFront’s initiative in starting educational programming for young children is based on research indicating that quality early education has been proven to improve high school graduation rates and leads to positive outcomes in employment, crime prevention, and health. According to the U.S. Department of Education, only 40 percent of lower-income children are enrolled in preschool, compared to 60 percent for their more affluent peers.

Founded in 1991, HomeFront, with headquarters in Lawrenceville and a family campus in Ewing, provides emergency shelter with intensive care management and affordable housing for families; tutoring and enrichment programs for children; and life skills and self-advocacy training for adults.

The Joy, Hopes and Dreams children’s program provides tutoring three nights a week, a computer programming class, and educational enrichment programming six days a week throughout the year. 

The Children’s Champions program, for homeless children living at HomeFront’s campus, includes tutoring four nights a week. In addition, HomeFront’s eight-week summer camp, attended by more than 150 children each year, includes academic enrichment, along with recreational activities and summer fun.

HomeFront’s 10 Hire Expectations graduates all succeeded in earning their high school equivalency diplomas after being given a second chance. The Hire Expectations program, with the help of 25 volunteer tutors, provides multi-faceted instruction for education and workforce skill preparation leading to the high school equivalency diploma and subsequent coaching for success in job acquisition and the workplace.

“This day means the world to me because I was kicked out of 10th grade on the first day,” said Hire Expectations graduate Malasia, who, as a child was homeless, frequently moving, and always struggling in school. “I finally feel like I did something right in my life.”

She continued, “I started to attend the Hire Expectations program, for a job, and worked for about three years before coming back to get my diploma. I told myself if I do it, my son will want to do it, to stay in school and feel this same energy, the same excitement, and the feeling of being proud of himself. I want to thank HomeFront shelter and Hire Expectations for giving me the chance to turn my life around.”

Reflecting on the significance of the multiple HomeFront graduations, HomeFront Founder and CEO Connie Mercer noted, “Homelessness for us is never a given. We see the wonderful possibilities for our clients, especially this time of year at graduation.”