A Backpack Changed My Life

I first met Will when he was 14 years old and living at the Super 8 Motel in Brockton with his mom and family. It was August 2006, and I was dropping off backpacks to the children in the motels. Will said, he remembers this lady pulling up to the motel and getting out of her car with lots of new backpacks. He wondered why someone he didn’t even know would give him a backpack filled with school supplies, including the calculator he needed for high school.

Will lost his home right before starting high school; his family was evicted from their apartment. He remembers his mom telling him to pack up his stuff because they were moving into a motel. She told him he could take only 2 bags. He thought, “What is going to happen to my stuff?” and “What should I bring with me?” He said it was the hardest time in his life, to not have a place to call home and to live in a crowded motel room with his family as a teenager. Will said he kept it a secret and didn’t tell any of his friends. He told me, “On the outside I looked like I was the same, but on the inside I was really hurting because I felt like I had lost everything.”

Will said after receiving his new backpack he started thinking, “It is time to get serious about my education. If someone I don’t even know cares about my education, I better start caring about it, too!” Will played football for the first time as a high school freshman and soon moved from Junior Varsity to Varsity. He became a star football player and started doing better in school.

A year after becoming homeless Will and his family moved into an apartment. He graduated from Brockton High School and went onto community college where he continued his football career. This past summer, Will was a counselor for Youth Works Mission Wave where he supervised at-risk students ages 14 and 15. The youth performed different service projects to help them develop team building and leadership skills while paying it forward for others in their community. Will’s group spent 2 weeks at the School on Wheels headquarters stuffing hundreds of backpacks for children living in shelters and motels right here in Brockton, where he once received a backpack.

On the last day of the Youth Works project, Will stood up in front of the students and counselors and told them his story. Will knew that some of the kids in his group might be struggling with homeless themselves. He said, “Seven years ago I was feeling down and helpless because I had lost my home, when a lady dropped off a backpack at the Super 8 Motel, that backpack changed my life.” He said telling his story brought everything full circle for him.

Will is now in our High School Plus program, and he is attending Onondaga Community College in Syracuse. This fall, SOWMA helped pay for his college textbooks, dorm supplies and his football pads. Will’s dream is to play for the University of Miami and one day be drafted to the NFL. He recently told me School on Wheels is going to be rich one day when he makes it to the NFL.

Will is already a “Super Star” in our eyes He is working hard in community college so he can go to a four year university next year. In the fall of 2013, Will’s team won the National Football Championship in Canton, Ohio!

To all of you who support School on Wheels, thank you for helping students like Will reach their full potential. ROCK ON WILL!

Cheryl Opper
Founder and Executive Director