Royal Oak Middle School serves as “Box City” May 25, as Royal Oak High School students raise awareness about homelessness.

Royal Oak Middle School serves as “Box City” May 25, as Royal Oak High School students raise awareness about homelessness.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes


Royal Oak students construct ‘Box City’ as fundraiser for homelessness

By: Sarah Wojcik | Royal Oak Review | Published June 5, 2018

 Akina Behrens, left, and Interact Club President Meredith Parks, right, both juniors at Royal Oak High School, construct their cardboard shelters at Royal Oak Middle School May 25 to raise awareness about homelessness.

Akina Behrens, left, and Interact Club President Meredith Parks, right, both juniors at Royal Oak High School, construct their cardboard shelters at Royal Oak Middle School May 25 to raise awareness about homelessness.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

 Royal Oak High School freshmen Kendal Dawson,  left, and Ethan Heckman, right, acclimate to  their cardboard shelters for the night.

Royal Oak High School freshmen Kendal Dawson, left, and Ethan Heckman, right, acclimate to their cardboard shelters for the night.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

ROYAL OAK — On May 25, more than 30 Royal Oak High School students gathered on the front lawn of Royal Oak Middle School to design and construct cardboard shelters for an overnighter.

The event, called “Box City” and hosted by the Interact Club, raised money and awareness for homelessness in the community.

Students raised more than $2,000 in pledges prior to the event, and they also took to Washington Avenue with cans and jars to solicit funds from motorists and passers-by. The money raised — a total of $3,300 — benefited South Oakland Shelter and ShelterBox, a global charity aimed at helping refugees and those impacted by disasters.

Steve Chisnell, a Royal Oak High School teacher and Interact Club adviser, said students have hosted the event for the last eight or nine years and are responsible for organizing everything.

“They know what they want to do with the boxes. Sometimes it works and sometimes it’s a physics nightmare,” he said with a laugh. “It’s been fun. They have their own snacks and stuff they bring in, and they have a fire pit for a little fire before they turn in. It’s a nice bonding, end-of-year thing.”

Royal Oak High School teacher Kelli Bracken got involved with the event for the first time this year and said she was impressed with the students’ drive.

“It’s so cool to see them so engaged and so interested in helping others,” she said. “It just blows my mind.”

Royal Oak High School Interact Club President Meredith Parks, a junior, returned to the Box City event for her second year. Parks said she has enjoyed creating box forts and shelters since she was a child.

“I like Box City because it’s hands-on,” Parks said. “A lot of the fundraising we do through the entire year is toward other students, but (with this), you’re active with the people in the community. I think that’s really important and it’s fun.”

Parks said she liked knowing that the funds will help those in Michigan through South Oakland Shelter, as well as internationally through ShelterBox.

Leila Vallarino, development associate for South Oakland Shelter, said the funds raised from the event will support the nonprofit’s emergency shelter and programming, such as rental assistance and short-term poverty prevention.

She said South Oakland Shelter is headquartered in Lathrup Village but partners with approximately 70 congregations that host clients for a week at a time to provide rotating shelter.

“We’re just so appreciative of the students coming out and sacrificing their Friday night to raise money for the homelessness in their communities,” Vallarino said. “I think it’s such a creative idea.”

South Oakland Shelter serves more than 3,000 people annually, according to a press release.

In 2016, more than 66,000 people in Michigan experienced homelessness, including 19,000 in metro Detroit, according to the release.