For Karrie Schaaf, the Anoka-Hennepin School District’s homeless youth and families liaison, it’s the small things that matter most for the students and families she works with.
A haircut, food, adequate clothing — things that are taken for granted by some — it’s what she tries to provide for the students and families she sees who are experiencing homelessness.
“If we can do something small that brings our students some sense of stability, it is my hope that they are better able to focus on their learning,” Schaaf said.
Over the past two years, Schaaf has planned, organized and conducted back-to-school events that provided backpacks, school supplies, clothing, food, haircuts, cellphones, dental check-ups, sports physicals and other resources to families in need.
More than 700 students were served last August at two events.
Her absence of judgment for others and her dedicated work to help families in need are what led to Schaaf being named one of the Anoka-Hennepin School District’s 2012-2013 Above & Beyond Award winners.
Schaaf was one of 10 recipients of the annual award that recognizes teachers, administrative assistants, cooks, custodians and other employees who work extra hard to make sure students are successful.
“My life experiences have helped me relate and advocate for our students and families experiencing instability,” she said. “I want others to understand our students and families are experiencing homelessness, they are not homeless students.
“I don’t want the experience of homelessness to define or limit our students or families.”
Linda Anderson, the director of student services who nominated Schaaf, said she never stops thinking about how she can better identify and provide help and services to Anoka-Hennepin students.
Anderson said that Schaaf has been known to pull over her car and beckon to a sign-holding homeless student on the street to meet her in the nearest coffee shop. She buys them a beverage, listens to their story and proceeds to figure out a plan to meet the student’s needs.
“I am honored to be able to work with such incredibly compassionate colleagues and resilient students and families,” Schaaf said.
“Through this work I hope we are able to support our students and families to keep them enrolled and engaged in school and assist them in securing safe and stable housing.”