The Packer Weekly: Matthew’s Voice Project sparks awareness
By Arimeta Diop
In the Fargo Public School district alone, according to the Fargo school talk webpage, there are two hundred known cases of unaccompanied at-risk youths. The Matthew’s Voice Project hopes to bring aid to these students, ensure the general public hears of their needs, and recognize teen homelessness as an issue faced by Fargo students.
Two years ago Jenny Schuster, a realtor of Park Company Realtors and part-time photographer, was approached by a foster parent who heard about her photography ability. The parent wanted her to take senior pictures of a few of the students in the household.
Schuster said she hesitated at the request, thinking she lacked the time and the skills for such a project. She did however have a particular photographer in mind, Michelle Warren from Minot.
“Because this woman has this huge business she’s been growing for 10 years, why would she move to Fargo?” Schuster said. “And literally six months later she calls me and says: ‘Jen, I am moving to Fargo.’”
She had not approached Warren about the senior pictures and Schuster believes this was no stroke of luck, but rather a sign this mission had to be done.
Matthew’s Voice Project is aimed at aiding students who are trying to graduate and go beyond high school despite their surroundings. Schuster, Warren and the Fargo schools liaison Jan Anderson work together to provide any necessary items for the at-risk teens.
This help ranges from clothes, temporary shelter to senior photos. Fargo schools have opened doors for the Matthew’s Voice Project and Schuster is excited to continue expanding the initiative. She has talked with the Assistant Superintendent Beth Slette and other administrative officers in the area.
“Now I’m getting calls from other schools asking how they can get something similar [to Matthew’s Voice Project] in their schools,” Schuster said.
The program consists of Schuster and a few other volunteers working together with the assistance of Schuster’s employer, Park Company Realtors. They receive money or clothing donations give them to Anderson who distributes them among students.
Although the program has only been in effect for a couple years, Schuster explained there have been students who have turned their lives around for the better. However, there are also students who have no idea homelessness is an issue their classmates may have to handle.
Jenny Schuster’s daughter Mia Schuster was surprised when her mother began working on Matthew’s Voice Project. She said she did not know there was actually a need for such a program.
“The thing is a lot of us are ignorant,” Mia explains. “Before my mom brought this up I didn’t even think of it; you don’t assume that one of your classmates is going to be homeless, that’s just not a thought.”
In the grand scheme of trying to expand the reach of Matthew’s Voice Project influence and ability to help students, Jenny said she truly wants the public to take away from the program is the power of saying “yes” to help another.
“I think the biggest thing I want people to know is that anybody can do this, anybody can help,” Schuster said. “You don’t need a hundred hours, just give us ten minutes.”
Although Matthew’s Voice Project has not been introduced into West Fargo schools yet, it is still encouraged that students in need of such assistance contact a counselor or Anderson. Anderson may be reached at (701)446-1013.
(The Packer Weekly is an ongoing column authored by journalism students at West Fargo High School with the intent of providing awareness about and insight into a variety school-related topics and activities. For additional information visit www.westfargopacker.org)