BY LASHON BLAND — Cars and vans filled with teenagers assembled early in the morning at Bladensburg Waterfront Park on Nov. 19 to participate in the annual Teens and Jeans Walk-a-thon for the Homeless.
Now in its eighth year, Teens and Jeans Walk-a-thon for the Homeless is a program run by Maryland National Capital Parks and Planning Commission (M-NCPPC) and is a part of the National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Campaign. Residents are encouraged to donate gently used jeans to Prince George’s County Parks and Recreation Centers Nov. 1-17, as well as on the day of the event. This year, 3,000 pairs of jeans were donated.
At the event, the teens sorted, folded, and packed jeans into tall sturdy bags to be distributed to various organizations and agencies throughout the community.
Teresa Gardner-Williams, volunteer services and community partnerships manager at M-NCPPC and one of the coordinators for the event, said many teenagers collect jeans throughout the year leading up to the walk-a-thon. “It’s great knowing that we are creating an event that allows young people to make a visible, tangible impact in their community.”
These teens are really raising awareness about hunger and homelessness, Gardner-Williams says. “They are spreading the word to their classmates and family. Many bring their friends to the walk with them.”
She added, “They understand some of the difficulties that being homeless can create and take this chance to do something about it.”
Teens and Jeans was born out of the Teens for the Homeless campaign. “The Teens for the Homeless Campaign started in 2008 with a teen volunteer group called Synergy,” said Tonya Johnson, park naturalist with M-NCPPC. “As the coordinator, I made sure they gave back to the community as well as help with environmental causes. The second year, Synergy, as well as the Xtreme Teens of M-NCPPC, collected over 7,000 pairs of jeans in all sizes from schools and agencies across the DMV.”
Over the years, M-NCPPC has involved high schools from Prince George’s County, Montgomery and Charles counties, as well as schools from DC and Alexandria, VA, Johnson said. “To date, we have collected over 30,00 pairs.”
The jeans are distributed to local agencies and organizations, said Johnson, who is responsibility for coordinating the distribution of the jeans. Promise Place, Martha’s Table, and the county’s Family Crisis Center are just a few of the organizations that will receive the donated jeans.
This year there were over 100 participants for the 5K Walk-a-thon along the Anacostia Tributary Trail System. To encourage walkers onto the finish line, there were Girl Scouts posted along the trail.
The day was filled with entertainment: live music from a local dj to hip hop aerobics, face painting, and Zumba. The department’s Extreme Teen and Get Fit Mobile outreach teams were there, too.
Gardner-Williams said Teens and Jeans has evolved since its start. “The event grows each year. More and more groups contact us to get details on hosting jean collections at their sites, more school groups contact us to volunteer. … We’ve added exhibitors and vendors and were really excited this year to have Housing Services and the Health Department from the county, and the Strike Force Drum Line from Marlow Heights Community Center.”
Also, student volunteers earned volunteer service hours for this event and were presented with a certificate for their efforts.
The host of volunteers from University of Maryland, College Park Scholars, First Baptist Church of Glenarden, Shiloh Baptist Church, and students from local high schools worked together to make Teens and Jeans Walk-a-thon for the Homeless 2016 a success.
Teens and Jeans Walk-a-thon for the Homeless is always held on the Saturday before Thanksgiving.