This is the true story of seven strangers picked to be on the Leadership Roanoke Valley Education Team. They worked together to increase awareness about unique challenges facing our community. Here’s their story….


After discussing several possible topics, our decision to focus on homelessness and its impact on students was sparked by a television news story. Here’s a brief look at the emails exchanged.

Ann: I want to throw out a hot button issue that is affecting Roanoke City schools right now…have you all read the statement issued the last couple of days about the homeless student numbers being way up this year, compared to previous years?… The possibilities are pretty far ranging here. Interviewing former homeless students, teachers on the effects of being homeless in the school system -the challenges and how they are coping. School board members on what they are doing to help, what they think needs to be done -what else the community can do. What happens to these students if they don’t complete school or even if they do?

Suzanne: Ann, this is so interesting…I just returned from San Francisco where I noticed, for the first time, a large number of younger homeless people. I have never thought about this problem. Maybe we can look at taking a stance of breaking the cycle…I’d be interested to know how many homeless students end up on the streets as adults.

Then came a flurry of emails and conversations which included articles reaffirming the dire consequences for children without a consistent “home”.  Less than 25% of children in Virginia that are homeless graduate from high school. How could we help?

OUR OBJECTIVE: Raise public awareness to the realities of homeless students and barriers to their academic success. 


Our Education team consisted of a diverse mix of personality types. Our DISC assessments showed that we were heavy on analytics. We actually appointed positions based on the DISC: Driver, Influencer, Supporter, Calculator

Brie and Ellie DIs – Bryan, Mac, Suzanne and Kim are heavier in the SCs. Ann landed in the middle and became our Chair.

Throughout the program our team worked well together. The mix of personalities served as a positive, not a hindrance. Throughout our planning, everyone in the group was engaged. People offered creative ideas, discussed pros/cons and made thoughtful decision about our program.

For instance, at one point we planned to use a Roanoke City school for our program day and have a school bus transport people from one location to another. The idea was to give people a sense of nostalgia for their school days. We also wanted to finish our day at a college because, after all, our goal is to get more homeless students to graduate and the ultimate designation would be for them to go to college. In the end, we felt that our time traveling to and from a Roanoke City school might hurt our momentum and we wanted every second to have a purpose, so we decided to have the entire session at Roanoke College.

As a team we did our research…and more research….and MORE research! We decided on our topic early and by the end of October, we held our first expert interviews. We invited WSLS 10’s Dawn Jefferies and RCPS Homeless Student Coordinator Malora Horn to a team meeting. They shared their knowledge about the growing homeless student population as well as the unique challenges the students face. Malora became a valuable asset to us and eventually took part in our final program.


In planning our program day, we felt it was important to elicit emotions and encourage action. These are the goals we outlined:

  • Inform participants of the definition of “homeless” in regards to students and the prevalence of homeless students in our area
  • Illustrate the barriers of homeless students
  • Inspire participants to advocate and support homeless students in achieving academic success.

In an effort to get participants involved early in the program day, we developed a “Day in the Life” simulation. Ann and Kim were tasked with creating various scenarios homeless students could face and to show how each decision could potentially impact their education. We wanted people to think about the tough choices homeless students make and to understand that sometimes there is not a “good option”, sometime there is just bad and worse.

This activity was followed by real life stories about homeless students. A Roanoke City school principal talked about the impact homelessness has on the school system as well as some of the resources schools use to help students. We also heard from, Nikki, a women who grew up homeless. Nikki’s story provided true insight into the challenges homeless children encounter and the barriers to their academic success. She talked about her unstable home environment and its negative impact on her ability to focus at school. She also reflected on the support she received from organizations like the Rescue Mission and Straight Street and the positive impact they had in her life.


Toward the end of our program day, participants were assigned to smaller groups and took part in a 50 minute breakout session. An expert led each group in discussions about the unique barriers homeless students face and helped to brainstorm possible solutions. The solutions each group came up with became part of our Call to Action which included volunteering at a homeless shelter, donating to local school systems and/or wearing the Star Council t-shirt to raise awareness about the homeless student population.

Education Team Participants

  • Ellie Hammer
  • Mac Garner
  • Bryan Hill
  • Brie Jackson
  • Kim Robertson
  • Ann Satterwhite
  • Suzanne Smith

Education Team Advisors

  • Kelly Sandridge
  • Lauren McMillan
  • Ian Fortier

Roanoke Regional Chamber

210 S. Jefferson St.
Roanoke, VA 24011-1702