By Dorothy Markulis
We’ve all seen the homeless men on street corners with cardboard signs asking for a hand-up or a hand-out but most of us are unaware of the unseen homeless: the more than 1,200 homeless children in Akron assisted by Project R.I.S.E.
“This year we identified 1,200 homeless students in our district,” said Debra Manteghi, district homeless education liaison and project manager of Project R.I.S.E. – Realizing Individual Strength through Education – for the Akron Public Schools.
The numbers are increasing. The prior school year worked with 1,000 homeless children.
And if you think homeless children is a new problem, think again.
According to Manteghi, the problem of homeless children was addressed during President Ronald Reagan’s administration under the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act in 1987. That act laid the foundation for the federal funding assistance to Project RISE.
“We deal with family homelessness, not the chronically homeless you see on the street,” Manteghi said.
Project RISE works with 11 homeless shelter sites in the greater Akron area to provide supplemental educational services to homeless children and youth.
“Our purpose is to remove barriers to education of homeless children and to promote academic achievement and success,” Manteghi said.
Manteghi is especially proud of the after school programs coordinated at 10 of the area’s 11 homeless shelters.
“Our tutors are amazing. They are teachers, child and family development specialists and volunteers. They make learning fun for our children,” Manteghi said.
Summer field trips are an integral part of the project’s programming.
“This summer we’ve visited Stan Hywet Hall, Hale Farm, Cleveland Natural History Museum and the Cleveland Museum of Art,” Manteghi said. “ Each field trip averages about 120 students.
She deemed the trips very successful and educational for the students.
“They need the sense of community and the cultural experience. Each trip has been very successful,” Manteghi.
The project manager has been with the Akron program since 1998.
“I’ve been here long enough to see some of our children graduate and go on to higher learning,” said Manteghi.
She counted that as one of the most satisfying aspects of her job.
“But just to see the joy in their faces when we do activities and field trips – that’s also very rewarding,” she said.
Lesley Anderson, licensed social worker and group facilitator for the Battered Women’s Shelter, had nothing but praise for Project RISE.
“The children would miss so much if there were no Project RISE,” Anderson said. “The cultural events, the performing arts, the consistency of the after school tutors. All of those things are so important for a child to grow into a healthy adult,” Anderson said.
She said the value of the program is tremendous and she has the credentials to back up her opinion. She is also the regional director of the National Association of Social Workers.
“Our children are coming from a place of trauma and now they are nurtured, supported and valued. Project RISE is a big part of our program for children’s advocacy,” Anderson said.
She too, had words of praise for all the tutors involved in the after-school programs provided by RISE.
“They know what they’re doing and they do it consistently. They are so valuable to our children,” Anderson said.
Project RISE provides a long list of services for Akron’s homeless children in addition to tutoring: liaison services for enrollment, transportation, educational services, school supplies, community collaboration, coordination of services, professional development and community and school awareness.
According to Manteghi, the project attempts to educate children in the last school district they attended before they became homeless which can involve transportation issues.
One of the additional programs developed by Manteghi is RISE-ing Families: Reaching New Heights at the Akron Battered Women’s Shelter, funded by the Women’s Endowment Fund.
The program facilitates a life skills and parenting program for the mothers while an arts and literacy program is hosted for the children.
One of the programs developed by Project RISE is PACT – Performing Arts Can Teach. It recently partnered with the Magical Theatre Company to present two dinner theater performances at the First United Methodist Church of Akron.
Volunteers and donations are always welcomed, according to Manteghi. For more information, call Manteghi at
330-761-2969 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more details on programs offered by Project:RISE, visit its website by googling com/siteapsprojectrise/home.
“We’re always looking for volunteers and for foundations to support our program,” Mantegh said.