This town built a homeless shelter. For school kids.

The numbers are staggering: The number of homeless kids in public schools reached 1.36 million in 2013-14.

That's 3% of the school population across the country.

The number of kids who experience food shortages at home is even more dramatic: 16 million kids under the age of 18 in 2013.



Kids like these do not have much of a chance of making it. School becomes challenging, life even more so.

And often this continues throughout their entire adult lives.

It becomes a cycle when they have their own children: Low educational opportunities and attainment means that as adults, economic opportunities are even rarer and folks can't get jobs that help them reach the middle class. Then, when they have kids, they can't help them reach higher levels of education. And the cycle continues.

"The Door" — the Fairbanks Youth Advocates youth shelter. Image from its website.

In Alaska, Fairbanks Youth Advocates started out as a counseling service for these kids, but the emergency homeless shelter for kids kinda took over (though they still offer counseling). After all, when kids are in crisis, counseling and classroom work isn't exactly a high priority for them.

The shelter offers these kids a chance at making it.

When they have a place to sleep, nutritious food, and a support network, they can flourish.

Marylee Bates, director of the program, rather stumbled onto this project. She saw the problem when she was a teacher, and she kept hearing from others about the need for an emergency shelter for these kids.

“Five or six years ago, I didn't see this coming down my turnpike. I was actually happily teaching in my classroom, thinking that is where I'd stay. It just really seemed like it needed to happen, and it wasn't happening soon enough." — Marylee Bates

Those who work there, volunteer, and donate to keep the shelter going are heroes, and we need more of them.

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Disney has come under fire for problematic portrayals of non-white and non-western cultures in many of its older movies. They aren't the only one, of course, but since their movies are an iconic part of most American kids' childhoods, Disney's messaging holds a lot of power.

Fortunately, that power can be used for good, and Disney can serve as an example to other companies if they learn from their mistakes, account for their misdeeds, and do the right thing going forward. Without getting too many hopes up, it appears that the entertainment giant may have actually done just that with the new Frozen II film.

According to NOW Toronto, the producers of Frozen II have entered into a contract with the Sámi people—the Indigenous people of the Scandinavian regions—to ensure that they portray the culture with respect.

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Though there was not a direct portrayal of the Sámi in the first Frozen movie, the choral chant that opens the film was inspired by an ancient Sámi vocal tradition. In addition, the clothing worn by Kristoff closely resembled what a Sámi reindeer herder would wear. The inclusion of these elements of Sámi culture with no context or acknowledgement sparked conversations about cultural appropriation and erasure on social media.

Frozen II features Indigenous culture much more directly, and even addressed the issue of Indigenous erasure. Filmmakers Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck, along with producer Peter Del Vecho, consulted with experts on how to do that respectfully—the experts, of course, being the Sámi people themselves.

Sámi leaders met with Disney producer Peter Del Vecho in September 2019.Sámediggi Sametinget/Flickr

The Sámi parliaments of Norway, Sweden and Finland, and the non-governmental Saami Council reached out to the filmmakers when they found out their culture would be highlighted in the film. They formed a Sámi expert advisory group, called Verddet, to assist filmmakers in with how to accurately and respectfully portray Sámi culture, history, and society.

In a contract signed by Walt Disney Animation Studios and Sámi leaders, the Sámi stated their position that "their collective and individual culture, including aesthetic elements, music, language, stories, histories, and other traditional cultural expressions are property that belong to the Sámi," and "that to adequately respect the rights that the Sámi have to and in their culture, it is necessary to ensure sensitivity, allow for free, prior, and informed consent, and ensure that adequate benefit sharing is employed."

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Disney agreed to work with the advisory group, to produce a version of Frozen II in one Sámi language, as well as to "pursue cross-learning opportunities" and "arrange for contributions back to the Sámi society."

Anne Lájla Utsi, managing director at the International Sámi Film Institute, was part of the Verddet advisory group. She told NOW, "This is a good example of how a big, international company like Disney acknowledges the fact that we own our own culture and stories. It hasn't happened before."

"Disney's team really wanted to make it right," said Utsi. "They didn't want to make any mistakes or hurt anybody. We felt that they took it seriously. And the film shows that. We in Verddet are truly proud of this collaboration."

Sounds like you've done well this time, Disney. Let's hope such cultural sensitivity and collaboration continues, and that other filmmakers and production companies will follow suit.

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