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The Wildcat Tribune

The official student news site of Dougherty Valley High School.

The Wildcat Tribune

The official student news site of Dougherty Valley High School.

The Wildcat Tribune

Contra Costa Winter Nights shelter uplifts homeless families with holiday cheer

Two+families+enjoy+a+warm+dinner+together+in+the+Winter+Nights+shelter+at+St.+John+Vianney+Catholic+Church+in+Walnut+Creek.+++%0A
Susan Tripp Pollard, Bay Area News Group
Two families enjoy a warm dinner together in the Winter Nights shelter at St. John Vianney Catholic Church in Walnut Creek.

The Winter Nights Family Shelter nonprofit program which is  geared towards guiding the homeless towards self-sufficiency, has expanded its efforts to help as many families as possible, providing them with shelter, transport, and education.

Over the last few years, Winter Nights Family Shelter has transformed from a mere subgroup of the San Ramon Interfaith Council to an independent organization that operates for 36 weeks a year. It offers safe parking programs for families living out of their vehicles, shelter at various churches that rotate every two weeks, and traveling tutors that provide education to students of various ages. 

Ann Lawrence, a longtime staff member at Winter Nights, explains: “We have this down to a science. Families live in their own personal tents so that they have their own sleeping space, their own belongings in there and at the end of two weeks, we pack all that up and take it to the next site.”

Of course, all of this volunteer work is costly, as Lawrence detailed “to run the shelter and the safe parking programs is about $600,000 or $700,000 a year.” Thankfully, though, the shelter receives assistance from private charity foundations and government contracts, as “it’s 80% funded by the private sector and maybe down to 10% government contract funding.”

The help that the shelter receives from churches is also a major reason that it’s able to run so smoothly, as they provide both the location for families to stay and the resources necessary to keep them healthy. Peggy Woehleke, the head traveling tutor for Winter Nights, even joined the shelter after her church volunteered their services for a couple of weeks.

We’ve got Sikhs who donate, we’ve got Hindus who donate, we’ve got Buddhists. You know, it’s like a Stone Soup where everyone puts in a little bit and pretty soon you have a really nice soup.

— Ann Lawrence

“It is such a warm and generous, collaborative effort,” Lawrence described. “We’ve got Sikhs who donate, we’ve got Hindus who donate, we’ve got Buddhists. You know, it’s like a Stone Soup where everyone puts in a little bit and pretty soon you have a really nice soup.”

The warm and generous environment extends to the shelters themselves, as the director of the organization Carmella Kowall describes, “it’s a warm safe place that’s like a little community. All the kids and all the adults get together and hang out to play games and whatnot.”

The most important aspect of the shelter, however, is the tutoring that the staff provides to disadvantaged students. They recognize how important education is for these students and do their best to provide them with whatever is necessary for their learning.

“One of our big things is focusing on the academic success of the children because being homeless is very disrupting,” Lawrence stated, “So we focus very hard on getting them back in the rhythm of school and knowing that there are people who care about them and support their success.”

Woehleke continues: “The role of us traveling tutors is to get to know each student and their needs, and the key is flexibility, since our students can range from infants and toddlers to teenagers in high school.”

The shelter is especially proud of their education system and their programs that encourage reading, as Woehleke says, “We have a reading incentive program and so if the kids read for half an hour each night they get two points and after 20 points they get some kind of incentive.”

Through these programs and the continued efforts of volunteers, Winter Nights has helped uplift 1,263 people over 15 years, including Kowall and her family, and the organization aims to continue supporting as many as possible.

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Andy Mei, Arts and Entertainment Editor
Andy joined the Wildcat Tribune in order to get more involved with student life on campus and help inform other students on a variety of topics. He was in Journalism 1 last year. Andy enjoys listening to music while riding his bike or hiking, snacking on chips and fruits while watching documentaries and video essays, and reading fantasy novels late into the night. His goal in journalism this year is to be able to diversify the topics he writes about more and write an article in every section. If Andy could be anyone on the Tribune, he would want to be Mr. Bathke, since he would be able to manage and watch over the paper without directly getting involved in the writing process.

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