By Dave Ongie
As the coordinator of the Homeless Education Program for the entire Johnson City School System, Sydnee DeBusk’s days are often long, and there seems to be no end to the work at hand.
DeBusk serves all 12 schools in Johnson City, and the number of homeless students trends upward with each passing year. Last year, the program helped over 450 students who were either homeless or in foster care. In her first year as coordinator after taking over for the retired Bonnie White, DeBusk said the demand for the program continues to grow.
“Some days are really, really, really busy,” she said. “It’s a big job, but I really love it.”
While DeBusk loves her job, there is one part of the year that stands out above all others. That two-day stretch came last week as DeBusk was able to channel her inner Santa Claus and deliver gifts to 62 kids who were sponsored by generous individuals and organizations in the community.
Each sponsored child received gifts, a Christmas food basket and a cleaning supply basket for the whole family. Sponsors receive a wish list from the children, purchase and wrap the gifts and return them to DeBusk, who gets to bring a bit of joy into the lives of kids who face daily adversity most folks cannot phathom.
“It’s my absolute, hands-down, favorite part of my job, just seeing a tree when you walk in without one gift underneath it,” DeBusk said. “And then when I leave, there are tons and tons and tons of presents under the tree for these families. It’s just super-special.
“It’s a lot of work, but it’s worth it in the end.”
DeBusk said the program relies on civic groups, churches, local businesses and individuals to step forward and sponsor children in the program. The Christmas gift program has no major fundraising events and depends largely on word-of-mouth marketing.
To find out more about the program and ways to help next year, contact DeBusk at (423) 434-5200.