SUMMIT, NJ - Normally hosting athletic competitions or gym class, Oak Knoll School’s Tisdall Hall Gymnasium recently became the destination for nine slumbering students who raised $14,000 to combat homelessness through their participation in Covenant House's 2018 Sleep Out: Student Edition.

Meghan Schlageter ’18, of Summit; Grace Sanders ’18, of Short Hills; Mary Lawler ’21, of Short Hills; Gabrielle Christie ’19, of Madison; Lauren Meehan ’19, of Morristown; Anna Loprete ’19, of Short Hills; Caroline Bizub ’19, of North Caldwell; Anna Jordan ’19, of Chatham; and Catherine D’Alessandro ’20, of Maplewood. all 'slept out' with the hopes that others in the future won’t have to, while Aurora-Yasmine Ghorab ’19, of Morristown; Isabella Henry ’21, of Berkeley Heights; Ashley Byron ’20, of Westfield; Grace D’Alessandro ’22, of Maplewood; Emma McGee ’18, of Basking Ridge; and Madison Dyer ’18, Short Hills; also helped by fundraising and otherwise supporting the effort, which originally had a goal of $10,000.

Throughout the evening, students heard firsthand from a young woman who is currently living in one of the Covenant House shelters.

Sign Up for E-News

“It was extremely eye-opening to hear her story about her experiences being homeless and how the Covenant House has helped her support herself and her two daughters,” said Meehan, who organized the Oak Knoll sleep-out.

“By the end of the night, each participant had a full understanding about the Covenant House's mission and their role in supporting homeless young adults,” she said. “Also, we were all awestruck after hearing how difficult this woman’s life was, and that she still persevered and put her children’s needs above her own.”

Afterward, Oak Knoll students had their own discussions about their takeaways from the presentation, including what other opportunities exist to support the organization to further combat teen homelessness.

“Next year we want to run drives for supplies to bring to the shelters along with hosting another sleep-out,” she said.

Meehan said she learned of Covenant House through an uncle who was acquainted with Robert Williams, chairman of the organization’s Board of Directors.

“I learned about the goals of Covenant House and how high school students could get involved to help the issue of teen homelessness,” Meehan said. “I found this extremely intriguing because my peers and I would be able to help people hands on who are close to our age but living drastically different lives.”

She then reached out to the organization in the summer of 2016 and spent the ensuing fall and winter meeting them to bring the sleep-out to Oak Knoll.

According to Covenant House, an New York-based nonprofit, approximately one in 45 American youth will face homelessness this year. The organization works to stem this through education, job training and other social services.