St. Ann students walk for the homeless

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Homelessness was all the talk at St. Ann Church and School in Arlington last week. The school's annual Walk for Borromeo Housing was held Oct. 16, but days earlier, an unusual discovery was made - a homeless man had allegedly been living in the attic of the church for three years.

On Columbus Day, a technician was checking out an air-conditioning problem when he saw the man. He notified Missionhurst Father Ramel O. Portula, pastor, who called the police. The discovery made the local newspapers and television stations.

Susannah O'Donnell, PTO communications chairperson, recognized the link between the homeless walk and the man in the attic.

"It's a strange irony," she said.

Father Portula said that the incident was sad, but it could be a teaching moment.

"He was a homeless man who wanted a safe place," he said. "It's an opportunity to tell a positive story."

And it was a positive story as the entire student body gathered in the school gym after morning Mass on Friday to prepare to walk through the streets of the St. Ann neighborhood.

This was the 10th year that the students walked to raise money and awareness for the homeless. All proceeds from the walk go to Borromeo Housing Inc., a group that provides a safe home for young homeless mothers.

Students' families donated the money, and some students donated their allowances to the effort.

Borromeo Housing was founded in 1988 by parishioners of St. Charles Borromeo Church in Arlington. In addition to providing housing, the group also runs an infant care supply center that helps about 150 women each month get clothes and other necessities for their babies.

Dani Seltzer is the chairman of the board of directors and spoke to the students in the gym before the walk.

"Your walk today helps four moms and five babies," she said. " (It gives) nine people a safe place to stay."

Principal Mary Therrell announced that $5,138 dollars was raised this year - a record.

The money will cover expenses for the women for two months.

After Seltzer's talk, teachers gathered the students into groups and took them outside to begin their walk escorted by Arlington County police on motorcycles.

They walked along the Custis Trail and neighborhood streets. It took just 20 minutes to complete the circuit.

Students grabbed drinks and snacks and talked to each other. Afterward, .sSome reflected on their short pilgrimage.

"It's a good thing that we raise awareness and donate money for a good cause," said eighth-grader Fiona Archer.

In a county whose per-capita income, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, was $63,000 in 2013, awareness of the homeless problem can help people who Seltzer said are called "the uninvited", find a safe place to stay.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015