Since late 2011, the Crossroads Family Center has sheltered a record number of families with small children. The Family Center has space for 15 families, but the demand for shelter has been so great in recent months that the staff has had to put cots and mattresses in the Center’s common area and computer study room to accommodate additional families. At our downtown location, families have had to share our Family Room or sleep in conference rooms because no shelter could be found for them. Crossroads is working frantically to find additional shelter options for families, and the staff at the Family Center is doing everything possible to help parents and children cope with their situations. Homelessness is traumatic, especially for children, and the severe overcrowding at the Family Center presents additional challenges for everyone. Chontell Washington, Crossroads’ Family Literacy Coordinator, tries to come up with creative approaches to brighten the lives of the families and help the children enjoy learning activities while they are with us. “Last year, we had a grant from the Ronald MacDonald House Charities, and I was impressed by their mission to enhance children’s lives. That idea stuck, and I decided we could enhance the lives of the children in our shelter despite the difficulties we are having now,” says Chontell. She looked through a catalog of arts and crafts supplies, and when she saw some materials that she could use to convert the common area into an impromptu theater, she ordered some paper “guitars” and a backdrop that depicted a curtain and stage lights. The guitars were a little too flimsy, though. “I knew that Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island employees were coming to Crossroads for a volunteer day in April, so I brought my paper guitars and some materials I got from the recycling center to our downtown location and took advantage of some of the Blue Cross volunteers,” Chontell explained. “They cut out colored cardboard backing and glued them to the paper guitars to make them stronger.” On one of the regularly scheduled Family Literacy days, Chontell took over the Family Center dining room and brought out all the materials so that parents could work with the children to decorate each guitar. “It was a great learning experience for the kids,” Chontell says. “They learned about guitars, counted the number of strings and learned how each one makes a different sound. It was a good activity for hand and eye coordination, dexterity, and learning new words.” When the guitars were all decorated, Chontell put up the stage backdrop, lowered the lights and started the music, which turned out to be a universal language for the multi-lingual group of children. One by one, kids volunteered to be rock stars. One little boy called his song ‘4’ and happily sang the words, “Uno, dos, tres, cuatro,” rocking to the music, with all the other children joining in. “The parents were so proud of their little rock stars,” Chontell says. “So many of the children in the shelter are suffering from the trauma of having lost their homes, and they don’t talk to anyone. But when we started rocking, they all began to join in the dancing and singing. It was a wonderful time for them, and parents were so happy to see their children doing something fun.” After the concert, the children enjoyed healthy snacks and continued to sing and show off their very own guitar creations. This effort, which brought so much joy to children enduring very hard times, shows how a small effort by community volunteers can make a huge difference in the lives of our clients. “I am so happy that the Blue Cross volunteers will be able to see how their work making paper guitars turned into so many smiles and so much happiness,” Chontell says. Crossroads is very proud of Chontell and her woquatrrk to bring a successful Family Literacy program to our Family Center. These kinds of programs are a rarity in a shelter setting, but they are a powerful way to help children create positive memories while they are with us. If you would like to help dedicated staff members like Chontell continue to enrich the lives of homeless children and give their parents the essential support and services they need to move their families out of homelessness, please consider donating now .