Inspired by Novel, East Aurora Students Aim to Raise $15,000 for Homeless

Inspired by Novel, East Aurora Students Aim to Raise $15,000 for Homeless

Dozens of East Aurora High School students will be sleeping overnight on the school’s football field and raising thousands of dollars for local homeless residents as part of a project inspired by a nonfiction novel. The students have a goal of raising $15,000 before the April 18 event at East Aurora High School, 500 Tomcat Lane.

All the funds collected would be split between Aurora’s Hesed House homeless shelter and local families in need. Students created the project after reading about the profound, lifelong effect that poverty had on the two main characters in “There Are No Children Here.”

“People give at the holidays. But poverty is a year-round factor, and we want people to remember is happening every day,” said East Aurora High School senior Alfonso Dieppa, one of the students who will be part of the Tomcat Sleep Out.

About the class

Seven years ago, East Aurora High School English teacher Shane Gillespie created a class called “Survivor Literature,” which focuses on analyzing literature to take informed action. The class, which has grown to six sections, examines nonfiction novels about people who have survived tremendous hardship.

Each year, students select one book to be a launching point for a student-led independent study and service project. The students choose a book that will be educational and impactful. When a book is picked, the students discuss the novel as a literary work and as a call to action. In past years, students have traveled to Louisiana to help victims of Hurricane Katrina; raised money to bring a Holocaust survivor to speak; heard from a blind man who survived the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks; and raised money for a former child soldier.

This year, the students selected “There Are No Children Here: The Story of Two Boys Growing Up in the Other America” as their independent study. The 1991 book garnered national recognition for its compassionate and unflinching portrait of Pharoah and Lafeyette Rivers, two young boys growing up in a public housing project in inner city Chicago.

About the Event

The students have designed a day of service inspired by the book. On April 18, more than 100 students will sleep out on the school’s football field. They will be technology free for the evening. They will bring one bag of belongings and eat a communal meal, in an effort to replicate the experiences of poverty and homelessness that many Aurora residents face. The event will also feature a community service aspect: it will be a clothing drive and fundraiser.

Get involved!

To donate, go to or send a check to Shane Gillespie c/o East Aurora High School, 500 Tomcat Lane, Aurora IL 60505.

You can follow the student’s journey on Twitter at @TomcatsSleepOut.

Kotlowitz, a prominent author who lives in the Chicago area, will be speaking with students at the high school prior to the Sleep Out event.

About ‘There Are No Children Here’

There are no children here

Alex Kotlowitz’s book There Are No Children Here: The Story of Two Boys Growing Up in the Other America (Doubleday, 1991) garnered national recognition for portrait of Pharoah and Lafeyette Rivers, and their lives growing up in a public housing project in inner city Chicago.

There Are No Children Here was selected by The New York Public Library as one of the 150 Most Important Books of the 20th Century and is taught at high schools, colleges and universities across the nation. More than 20 years after publication, the book continues to sell more than 15,000 copies each year.

About Kotlowitz

Alex Kotlowitz is an award-winning journalist and bestselling author, who has been exploring issues of race and poverty in America for more than 20 years. His most recent book, Never a City So Real, introduces readers to people of Chicago who have been his guide into the city’s heart.

From 1984 to 1993 Kotlowitz was a staff writer at The Wall Street Journal where he wrote on urban affairs and social policy. He regularly contributes to The New York Times Magazine and NPR’s This American Life (including the widely-acclaimed, Peabody Award-winning double episode “Harper High School”).

Kotlowitz is a seasoned journalist whose work extends beyond print to include TV and radio. Continuing his inquiry into social issues in America, Kotlowitz’s documentary The Interrupters examined the stubborn persistence of urban violence and was praised by A.O. Scott for its ability to “open up” the topic of urban violence and not limit the story to “the comforting clarity of easy conclusions.”

Kotlowitz’s writings are studied widely across the country by programs focusing on social work, education, psychology, urban affairs, race, housing issues and journalism. He is currently a writer-in-residence at Northwestern University. Kotlowitz now lives with his family outside Chicago. He is presently working on a new book.