After a summer-like October, rain and cold descended just in time for November’s Covenant House Sleep Out at Saint Joseph Regional High School in Montvale. Despite a day of heavy rain that soaked the school’s courtyard, and despite night-time temperatures that dipped into the 30s, 120 students and faculty members slept outside on November 7 to support the homeless teens served by Covenant House New Jersey.
It was the sixth consecutive year that the St. Joseph community has participated in the Sleep Out, and the number of participants and amount of dollars raised continues to grow. This year’s participants raised more than $42,000 for Covenant House, an organization that helps young people who are homeless.
The Green Knight contingent included representatives from every one of the school’s athletic teams, the Performing Arts program including band, chorus and crew as well as at least one student from every club on campus.
“This year we saw a big boost in participation, thanks in large part to the 24 members of the SJR football program, including head coach Augie Hoffmann ‘99, who joined the efforts this year,” said Director of the Performing Arts John Asselta, who has led the Sleep Out since its inception in 2012.
“We receive a tremendous amount of support from the school community and people outside of SJR that I think it’s important for our boys to understand the meaning of giving back,” said Hoffmann.
The evening began at 9:00 pm with shared stories, from both Covenant House residents and staff members. Former resident Ainsley, who has recently moved into his own apartment, delivered a powerful story of hope after finding support and direction from Covenant House.
For the Green Knights, Ainsley gave "homelessness" a very different look.
"He was so intelligent and so driven," said Gage Poindexter '18 of South Nyack, NY, who was participating in his third Sleep Out. "It was hard to imagine someone like him being homeless; it shows that it could happen quickly to anyone."
The students then split into smaller groups for reflection before reconvening for a late-night prayer service. During the reflection, students were asked what they'd miss the most if they became homeless. More than anything, they expressed a fear of not believing that anyone cared about them.
"The Sleep Out made me so much more thankful for the roof over my head, the food on my plate, and everything my family provides for me,” said Nicholas Gambassi ‘20 of Saddle Brook, NJ. “The event also made me more aware of the homelessness that occurs just minutes away in cities like Newark."
Following a prayer service during which the students shared how they were impacted by hearing from Ainsley, everyone received a cardboard box and found a spot in the school’s rain-soaked courtyard to sleep.
“The sleep-out gave me a chance to step into the shoes of someone much less fortunate that I am,” said sophomore Brayden Kelly of Norwood, NJ. “It gave me a much better understanding of what being homeless really means, and really gave me a different perspective on everything.”
As the temperatures fell into the mid-30s and the wind began to blow, the Green Knights got a taste of the challenges that come with sleeping outside - challenges that the homeless face every day. And when morning dawned, it wasn’t home to a warm bed. Rather, the students showered at school before heading to their first period class of the day, just like their homeless peers are forced to do everyday.
“I am impressed by the students’ empathy for the homeless and their desire to make a difference for those in need,” said Joseph LoGuidice, Director of Campus MInistry. “In the morning, the students’ expressions of discomfort spoke to their own personal journey in learning about homelessness in a meaningful way.”
“As important as the fundraising aspect is to Covenant House, I think the principal benefit for our students is the experience of the evening itself,” said Barry Donnelly ‘71, President of Saint Joseph Regional. “Understanding that these teens are victims of misfortune themselves, and sharing at least a night of their discomfort, helps our students to see the plight of the homeless in an entirely different way.”
As Asselta looked back on the night, he said simply, “It was cold, it was wet, but it was meaningful.”