By Chris McGuinness
Killeen Daily Herald
Forgoing the chance to watch television or surf the Internet, one group of students chose to spend their Friday night outside, sitting on cardboard and blankets as the sun set and temperatures dropped.
"I hope the weather holds up," said Talia Martinez, a sophomore at Ellison High School. "It's nice so far, but it's going to get colder."
Martinez and about 20 other students spent four hours on a small patch of concrete outside Ellison High School to raise awareness for the more than 800 homeless students in the Killeen Independent School District.
The event was created and hosted by Family, Career and Community Leaders of America, the school's student organization. Members of the club invited students to bring donations of blankets, clothes and money to the gathering.
"This gives us the chance to see what it's like," said Victoria Perez, an Ellison High School senior and vice president of the student group. "Tonight, instead of being at home on Facebook, we are out here trying to help the homeless kids in our schools."
The students came up with the idea after learning about the large number of homeless students in the district.
"It was surprising that there were so many," said Kelsey Wilson, an Ellison junior and club member. "You realize that many of these kids either try and hide it, or isolate themselves."
The event, which lasted from 6 to 10 p.m., included a discussion about homelessness, a quiet reflection time and a small meal.
The club's president, senior Brianna Jennings, said she hoped the event would highlight the importance of students helping their peers.
"You never know what a person's life is like at home," said Jennings. "We are all like a family, so when we see (students) in need, we should take the time to try and help them."
The students' efforts caught the attention of Steve Evans, the owner of Skateworld skating rink across the street from the school. Evans said he spent about 10 years as a homeless child, living out of cars while going to school.
"It wasn't easy," said Evans, a Los Angeles native. "You would have to go to school with duct-tape on your shoes. The other kids didn't understand, they'd make fun of you."
Evans offered a free hour of skating to participating students once their vigil was over.
"What they are doing is helping open people's eyes to the problem," said Evans. "I think kids today are much more aware and much more understanding of homeless students, and I think other schools should follow (Ellison's) lead."
All donations from Friday night's event will go to the district's program for homeless students and to the nonprofit Communities In Schools organization. Jennings said the club hopes to hold the event again next year.
Contact Chris McGuinness at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7568.