Essay, poster contest shines light on plight of homeless kids

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Pittsburgh Catholic Staff Report

Each fall, middle-school students in local Catholic schools are invited to submit a poster or essay on the theme of homelessness. The annual contest benefits the Homeless Children’s Education Fund through $1 fees for each entry.

On Nov. 3, Divine Providence Sister Catherine Ann Koller, representing the diocesan Department for Catholic Schools, presented this year’s awards at Shepherd’s Heart Fellowship drop-in center in Pittsburgh’s Uptown neighborhood, where the homeless can receive assistance.

The winners are:

• First-place essay, Brianna Pasternak, eighth-grader at Mary of Nazareth School in White Oak.

• Second-place essay, Ariauna Rose, seventh-grader at St. Maria Goretti School in Pittsburgh’s Bloomfield neighborhood.

• First-place poster, Julia Nguyen, seventh-grader at St. Maria Goretti School.

• Second-place poster, Sloane McCensky, eighth-grader at St. John Bosco Academy in Pittsburgh’s Brookline neighborhood.

The students assisted at Shepherd’s Heart by making sandwiches, with meat and cheese donated by Jim Wholey. Cheryl Pickering, of Shepherd’s Heart, facilitated the distribution of bag lunches to the drop-in guests and took the winners and their families on a tour of the veterans home and sanctuary. The Rev. Michael Wurschmidt, Shepherd’s Heart founder, spoke to them.

The Diocesan Middle School Essay and Poster Contest was started 11 years ago by Dr. Ron Bowes, then-assistant superintendent of Catholic schools, and Dr. Joe Lagana, founder of the Homeless Children’s Education Fund. The amount donated to HCEF through the years is about $20,000.

For the past eight years, the first- and second-place winners have been invited to a special opportunity where they serve the poor and the homeless, are recognized for their achievement by HCEF and the diocese, receive a $250 tuition waiver from the diocese and have lunch.

In preparation for the 2016 contest, 70 students from the Campus School of Carlow University and others participated in a performance art installation Oct. 20 outside Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall at the University of Pittsburgh.

During the project for Homeless Children’s Awareness Week, the children stood thoughtfully in silence for 15 minutes holding a drawing of the face of a child in front of their own face to represent the 3,000 kids who were identified by their Allegheny County schools as homeless last year.

The federal McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act states that children are homeless if they lack a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence. This definition includes a large population of children whose families may not know they are entitled to various rights under the McKinney-Vento Act. The hope of HCEF is to alert families of their rights while encouraging others to get involved in the effort to make a difference in the lives of vulnerable children.

For more information about HCEF, go to For Shepherd’s Heart Fellowship, check out