On a few of the walls in Dr. Arthur F. Sullivan Middle School, a poster with a Venn diagram can be found. With colorful circles, the loops encompass home, school, and community. The text in the background reads, “Together we make a difference.”
Principal Josephine Robertson and her school have been committed to keeping that sentiment true, especially with Sullivan’s laundry services for its students.
“We have a fairly significant homeless population,” Robertson said. “It is clear we must go beyond just providing for their academic needs.”
According to Robertson, the definition of “homelessness” not only includes people without homes but also encompasses students who live in shelters or those who are “doubled up in residential areas.”
Through donations and fundraising, Robertson was able to purchase a washer and dryer in 2017 for students that could not afford a laundromat. The school calls this initiative “Hope Gardens.”
“Hope Gardens is meant to be a facility for students who may need laundry but don’t have that facility at home or the money to do that,” Robertson said.
Now, students bring their laundry to school in their backpacks and run their load, without ever crossing another student’s path. During lunch, the students switch their clothes to the dryer, and, at the end of the day, they retrieve the clean clothes.
Students used to miss school often due to the lack of clean-clothes resources, according to district officials.
Ellen Thibodeau, focused instructional coach, said the program can also give students clothes. She mentioned how on a rainy day a student may become uncomfortable in wet clothing and Hope Gardens could provide a change of attire.
“A lot of our students, they’re just growing out of their clothes even,” Thibodeau said. “It’s just to give them a comfort level being here.”
On a weekly basis, Sullivan Middle School also provides its over 900 students a food pantry. Everybody receives free breakfast and lunch, according to Robertson.
“We served just over 30 families per week [last year],” Robertson said. “We provide them with backpacks, with food for a number of days.”
Since Sullivan Middle School spearheaded the laundry project, UMass Medical School officials have installed machines at Worcester East Middle, Union Hill School, Belmont Street Community School, and Grafton Street School.
As another poster said, these schools are “Building a better world … one student at a time.”