VILLA PARK – To 14-year-old Muzzamil Farooqi, personal experience can be a powerful thing, particularly when you walk in the shoes of someone less fortunate.
“It teaches us to be grateful,” said Farooqi, a Lisle resident and an eighth-grader at the Islamic Foundation School in Villa Park.
In an effort to raise money and awareness for homeless families in DuPage County, Farooqi and roughly a dozen classmates formed Team IFS (Islamic Foundation School) and signed up for Sleep Out Saturday, an annual fundraiser organized by Glen Ellyn-based Bridge Communities.
The fundraiser culminated Nov. 2, when participants slept outside in tents, cardboard boxes and cars to simulate the struggle of those living on the streets.
Farooqi, who was introduced to the fundraiser through friends at Glenbard West High School, chose to sleep in a car in his family’s driveway.
“I wasn’t thinking about what [homeless] people do,” Farooqi said. “You don’t really know until you do it. It’s a big problem in the community and I just wanted to help.”
Team IFS raised more than $1,700 for Bridge Communities, said Farooqi’s mother, Aliya Husain.
“All moms want their kids to be sensitive to the plight of the homeless,” Husain said. “We explained to the kids that a homeless person would be lucky to [at least] have a car to sleep in.”
Bridge Communities began 25 years ago to address the rising number of homeless people in DuPage County that were showing up in emergency shelters, said Mark Milligan, co-founder of the organization.
The initial goal was modest – to be able to get one homeless family out of the shelter and into a stable living situation.
“The idea was so true and people understood what we were doing, and resources began to flow to us,” Milligan said.
The organization partners with dozens of faith communities in the county, and works with homeless families over a two-year period to provide them with lodging and to help them develop the skills to budget and find steady jobs, Milligan said.
This year marked the 10th anniversary of the sleep out, the organization’s largest annual event. More than 60 teams participated.
Last year, the event raised about $130,000, and when all the funds come in later this year, Milligan estimates the figure will be between $140,000 and $145,000.
“There is still a perception that DuPage has no poverty-level people and we do,” Milligan said.