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Get a leg up on the 2022 Homeless Sensitivity Poster and Essay Contest; Apply Now

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The Homeless Trust is accepting applications for this year’s Homeless Sensitivity Poster and Essay Contest. Created in 2006 to honor Norris Gaynor, who, while homeless, was assaulted and murdered by three inebriated teenagers. The contest is designed to educate students on homelessness while creating a more compassionate community.

To educate and inspire interested applicants, we’ve interviewed a repeat-winning educator about his experience and approach to helping his students excel through targeted messaging.

Meet Mr. Eliezer Castro, a one-of-a-kind art teacher from Rubén Darío Middle School, who year-after-year, has made the poster and essay contest a must-do assignment for his students. Below find his tips for success. Also, keep an eye out for a special recommendation from the Homeless Trust to ensure your entry gets the utmost consideration!
What advice do you have for teachers who want to incorporate this experience into student assignments?
Make this art contest an actual lesson. Create a whole lesson plan based on this topic of homelessness. Principals love it when elective teachers, like myself, collaborate with core subject teachers. For example, sometimes, I work with the social studies teachers on this topic. Sit with students to brainstorm ideas based on the Homeless Trust’s mission. The key is to work with the students from beginning to end to develop the best possible creation and execution of these posters.

Do you have any lessons learned for students while participating in the annual poster and essay contest?
I've noticed that many of these students are completely oblivious to what homeless people go through daily. However, I see changes in attitude and level of interest rise when we have profound discussions on homelessness. For students to make effective posters, they must be interested and knowledgeable on the topic; therefore, I always make it a priority that we are all fully aware and clear of the seriousness of the issue. Once the student understands this, there's no holding them back. It's fascinating to watch.

Share a bit about your personal experience with the poster contest?
It's been a good experience for myself, my students, and our school. It's given our school a great opportunity to educate kids on expressing their ideas and feelings on this very delicate subject, and it's allowed me to collaborate with other teachers, which is considered and expected for annual teacher evaluations. Furthermore, I always love to watch my students win prizes for their hard work. It helps create a good work ethic in their mind; if they work hard at something they love (art), they can get paid for it!

Now for a tip from the Homeless Trust – the number one reason students' art and essays do not win is that they show or talk about giving out spare change to unsheltered homeless. Read the submission guidelines and rules carefully – that is not an approach the Homeless Trust wants to reinforce, but there are many other options, so make sure to focus on those.

This contest gives students across Miami-Dade County the opportunity to brainstorm meaningful solutions that address the causes of homelessness, overcome negative stereotypes, and create compassion for our County's homeless. We welcome creative artwork - from designs and comics - to storylines that illustrate powerful messages and encourage themes like care and respect for individuals experiencing homelessness.

Are you looking for other ways to participate if art isn't your thing?

Write an essay between 300-500 words; even record yourself reading your essay. Then, be creative with your video by using pictures, original drawings, or visual aids that reflect your essay's idea. All entrants MUST attend school in Miami-Dade County.

Prizes will be awarded to the student and Project UP-START Liaison or sponsoring teacher. All student winners will receive a $300 gift card (one per student), and the Project UP-START Liaison or sponsoring teacher will receive a $200 gift card (one per Project UP-START Liaison).

Submitting your poster is easy. You can take a picture of the artwork and send the image along with the submission form to Written essays are also submitted to that email address – it's really easy!

Check out the Homeless Trust and Project UP-START website for more information; if you need inspiration, get creative with your research and ideas to paper or video. We're rooting for ya!