LeBron James adds transitional housing to I Promise School for at-risk families

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<a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nba/players/3704/" data-ylk="slk:LeBron James">LeBron James</a> will open an I Promise Village next summer. (AP Photo/Phil Long)
LeBron James will open an I Promise Village next summer. (AP Photo/Phil Long)

It takes a village, so LeBron James is opening one. (At least in name.)

The Los Angeles Lakers star and his LeBron James Family Foundation announced the opening of I Promise Village, an apartment complex that will provide transitional housing for families with students experiencing unforeseen challenges in his hometown of Akron, Ohio. The village is in conjunction with his I Promise School, which opened in July 2018.

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James introduces ‘I Promise Village’

James and his LeBron James Family Foundation announced the I Promise Village in partnership with Graduate Hotels on Monday morning. It is to help families dealing with homelessness, domestic violence and other immediate unforeseen circumstances with the intention to provide shelter, safety and support for children so they’re able to attend and focus on school. Meanwhile, the foundation helps the family with a “long-term plan for their future success.”

The historic Westmont apartment building approximately five blocks from the I Promise School will be renovated for the project, according to Cleveland.com. Estimated completion is July 2020 so it would open in time for the next school year.

“Initially, our work was focused on helping these kids earn an education,” James said in a statement. “But we’ve found that it is impossible to help them learn if they are struggling to survive — if they are hungry, if they have no heat in the freezing winter, if they live in fear for their safety. We want this place to be their home where they feel safe, supported and loved, knowing we are right there with them every step of the way as they get back on their feet.”

Graduate Hotels will renovate the building, redesigning the space specifically for I Promise families, and donate it back to the foundation, per their website. The Chicago-based company has grown to 21 hotels in five years predominately in college towns.

Why James built a village for students’ families

Michele Campbell, the executive director of the foundation, saw a need for transitional housing early on. She told USA Today:

“Some [students] are homeless, some live in shelters and we have a student who was the victim of a gun invasion in their home and watched his brother get shot and a cousin get shot and die and he had to go back in that home. It was terrifying for him.”

What happens at home impacts what happens at school, and it can be difficult for students to concentrate on the work or do the at-home work to succeed. It also results in students acting out at school and being punished with, for example, in-school suspension rather than anyone getting to the root of the real issue. (As a flip-side comparison, when students act out because they are bored with the work, they are given higher levels of it rather than strictly punished.)

Campell told USA Today:

“If you’re coming to school and you were on the street or in a shelter and coming to school and placed in a classroom to learn about math or read books, there is no way those children can focus on learning.

“Because they’re frustrated and scared about what’s happening at home, what we are seeing, especially from young children who don’t understand how to connect all of those dots, when they put a book in front of them, that’s when we’re seeing behaviors act out. They don’t know how to necessarily verbalize they’re frustrated or scared."

That’s if they even continue going to school after a loss at home, or if they stay in the same school. Prior to the school’s opening, James said he had his own issues with school attendance and missed 83 days of fourth grade because he and his mother, Gloria, didn’t have permanent or transitional housing.

His situation is not uncommon.

Akron experiences higher housing issues

As the housing crisis continues, it’s a hurdle for families to find an affordable place to stay and evictions have become an issue, as described by Matthew Desmond in “Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City.” Akron has the 24th-highest eviction rate in the nation, according to Eviction Lab, and the number of homeless children in Akron schools was expected to exceed 2,000 in the 2018-19 school year. Shannah Carino, Akron schools homeless liaison, told the local Fox station in February approximately 10 percent of the city enrollment would deal with housing instability.

The I Promise School has 343 students in grades third through fifth and plans to expand to eighth grade soon. It got positive news last spring when the students’ first test scores exceeded expectations for their growth.

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