In the days after a Wake County high school student shared her story of homelessness, people from across the country have reached out to offer help buying books, clothes and supplies for her college dorm room.
Megan Faircloth, 17, who will graduate Monday at the top of her class at East Wake High School, was homeless during much of her junior year and part of her senior year. She earned a nearly full scholarship to attend Stanford University in California this fall.
Faircloth said she didn’t expect that talking about her hardships during a senior awards banquet last week would lead to an outpouring of support.
“I’ve been overwhelmed by negative things before in my life, so to finally be overwhelmed by something positive is great,” she said.
Faircloth’s story was featured by The News & Observer and has gained more media attention. “ABC World News Tonight” plans to feature her on the program, and “Inside Edition” also expressed interest.
“When I gave the speech, I didn’t even expect the local response, and then there was a national response to it, too,” Faircloth said. “It was really amazing.”
Many people who have reached out to Faircloth said they want to help pay for expenses her scholarship won’t cover. A Stanford alum wanted to give her $2,000, and school leaders offered to buy her a cellphone, she said.
“One lady said that I was her hero,” Faircloth said. “That was really flattering. Lots of people were calling in with gifts. One man offered to give me $100 every month when I’m in college. I was like, that was crazy.”
After Faircloth’s family was evicted from their Wendell home in November 2015, they stayed in a homeless shelter, slept in their car and rented motel rooms when they could find the money. The family moved into a new home last fall.
Faircloth’s story has brought into focus the rising number of Wake County students who are homeless.
Wake identified 2,940 students who were homeless during the 2015-16 school year – 700 more students than in 2009.
The number has increased by about 10 percent each year in recent years, said Michelle Mozingo, who coordinates services for homeless students in Wake schools. Many homeless students share temporary living spaces with family members or friends.
There were 1.26 million homeless students nationwide and 26,611 in North Carolina during the 2014-15 school year, according to the latest available data from the U.S. Department of Education.
Under the federal McKinney-Vento homelessness assistance program, Wake helps displaced students with clothes, food and referrals for health care. Those who become homeless can stay at their current school or transfer to another school. They can get free meals at school and access to transportation.
Students who don’t know where they’re going to sleep at night face extra challenges.
“They experience a lot of trauma of being displaced,” Mozingo said. “They’re expected to focus on academics, but they may be worried about a parent and a sibling staying in a car in a Walmart parking lot, for example.”
Faircloth said she decided to share her story to help others.
“I just wanted to raise awareness in the school and just let other kids know, who are going through similar things, that we’re all in this together,” she said.
More than 50 students at East Wake High School in Wendell are homeless, according to school leaders. With support from the community, East Wake collects hygiene items and has a food pantry for students in need.
Stacey Alston, the principal at East Wake, said he wasn’t surprised so many people want to help Faircloth.
“The eastern Wake community is a strong advocate for the school,” he said. “I think people would probably do more if they knew more, but a lot of times when students are experiencing challenges ... you just don’t put things like that out there.”
Faircloth said it’s amazing that so many people want to help.
“Just to see how much support there is for people who go through struggles in life, and just to see how much people appreciate people trying their best and working hard, and how much it inspires other people to do the same, is great,” she said.
Anyone who is interested in supporting Faircloth or other East Wake High School students can call the school at 919-365-2625.
Staff writer Sarah Nagem contributed.