Students, teachers take stand

Published 9:29 am Thursday, October 27, 2016

For the second year in a row, Emmarie Flaggs took a stand and stayed outside all night, a total of 12 hours from 5 p.m. to 5 a.m., in an effort to bring awareness to homelessness in Warren County and especially downtown Vicksburg.

However, this year Flaggs had a larger group in tow.

“My students were so motivated by what we did last year that they asked me if I would do it again this year and if they could be involved,” Flaggs said.

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The life skills teacher at Vicksburg High School said her students in the Chick-fil-A Leader Academy encouraged her to go homeless again this year and promised to be by her side the entire night.

“We are sleeping outside in order for our school to bring awareness to the homeless,” junior Alyssa Cabezas said.

The academy, made up of ninth through 12th grade students, is a community service organization sponsored by Chick-fil-A that organized multiple projects to impact the community throughout the school year.

“This is our first impact project,” Flaggs said.

In all about 30 students joined Flaggs and teacher Kristen Williams outside last night. The group stopped people on the street to let them know what they were doing.

“It’s an event that is out of the box, out of your comfort zone so you can get an understanding that people go through this all the time,” senior Zaria Neal said. “It’s been definitely worth it.”

In addition to raising awareness, the group was also accepting donations throughout the night for Mountain of Faith Ministries.

Flaggs said one man donated $100 in cash because of the students’ dedication. Those who didn’t get to donate last night can contact Tina Hayward at Mountain of Faith Ministries by calling 601-661-8990 to make a donation.

“We take toiletries, we take personal hygiene kits, we take financial donations as well,” Flaggs said. “It’s donation based. Everything that goes to these shelters is donation.”

Flaggs said she didn’t know there were homeless people in Vicksburg until she started volunteering at Mountain of Faith’s women and children’s shelter.

“I found out through that, that we have quite a few homeless people and this is the area that most of them tend to migrate to,” Flaggs said of the group’s Washington Street location for the night. “That’s why we picked this area.”

The devastation of homelessness and those people’s need became very important to her because she realized how easy it can be to lose everything.

“Nobody just signs up to say they are going to be homeless. This is something that can happen to any of us. Fire damage can cause us to become homeless. A loss of finances can cause us to become homeless. This is something that I think all of us should have some compassion in our heart for because at any time this could be one of us,” Flaggs said.

In January, Mountain of Faith Ministries helped organize the annual Point in Time homeless count and found around 160 homeless people in Warren County.

Some students said they could better understand homelessness by staying outside all night.

“If we see homeless people it will help us understand them,” junior Faye Valerio said. “Although we’re being privileged homeless people, it still gives us an idea of what its like to be homeless.”

Flaggs was proud of her students for stepping back from their busy schedules to be a part of something bigger than themselves and bigger than their school.

“I cannot do this without acknowledging these kids,” Flaggs said. “We’re not leaving until 5:30 a.m. (Thursday) — that says a lot about the kind of kids we have at Vicksburg High School.”

Many of the students participated to learn something new and to become well rounded by learning how others live.

“I wanted to do this because it can be an experience because this could happen to anybody at anytime,” senior Ja’Kayle Hawkins said. “It’s also good because we’re giving right back to people who need it.”

Flaggs said she was appreciative to the coaches who checked on the group last night and Vicksburg High’s principal Deowarski McDonald who made the event possible.

“He always supports any vision I have, any ideas I have that want to make a difference in our community,” Flaggs said. “And as a body, the school is always supportive as well.”

She also acknowledged the Vicksburg Police Department and Warren County Sheriff’s Office for keeping the group safe throughout the night.

“It takes a city to make a difference. It takes people to make a difference in a city. I thank God for the people in the city of Vicksburg,” Flaggs said.