Graduation parties are in full-swing right now. If you had stumbled upon one recent graduation party in Howell, you would have found picnic food, party games, and a live DJ. But there was something unique about this celebration.
The seven students here celebrating their high school diplomas are also homeless. (An additional student earned a GED.)
Matthew Curnalia is a case manager with The Connection Youth Services. He says these kids face more barriers than your average teen. The challenges in their lives can include a lack of family support, an abusive home life, or having nowhere to sleep.
Curnalia says that’s why this party is all about celebrating the kids and their accomplishments. While I spoke with him on the phone just a few hours before the party, he had a spark of excitement in his voice. But mid-conversation, he paused.
He said although this is a happy event, it’s also heartbreaking. Curnalia says many of the homeless teens have friends whose families threw huge graduation parties, and some of those kids were given large amounts of money as gifts.
Curnalia says today they’ll treat these kids to a big cake, but otherwise, all these kids walk away with is a Walmart gift card for $20 and a small present. He also says many of the kids’ family members won’t even show up.
Several of the students are the first people in their families to ever graduate high school. Most of them are enrolled in college or are working full-time.