Who We Are Program Receives NAEHCY National Program of the Year Award

Jani Koester @ Who We Are program

Jani Koester, 2011 GMWP cohort and teacher with the Madison Metropolitan School District’s (MMSD) Transition Education Program (TEP), was presented with the 2015 Outstanding Program award from the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth. The award recognized the Who We Are: Voices in Our Community program, a collaborative effort between the GMWP and MMSD that Jani has spearheaded with several other volunteers, many of whom are GMWP alumni, for the past four years and will again be organizing this coming May.  Jani traveled to Phoenix, Arizona, in November to receive the award.  She said, “It was a tremendous honor to accept the award on behalf of the students who shared their voices.”

When she accepted the award, she spoke briefly about the day of writing that she organizes; then she read a poem by one of the young writers.  She said, “Not a sound could be heard from over 1000 conference attendees, expect for the occasional sniffle of tears.  Their words are profound.”  The poem that she read appears at the end of this article.

You can learn more about this powerful program by reading the “Using Writing to Empower and Educate” post or viewing the documentary video produced for the Forward Motion TV show on the Big Ten Network.



16 year-old student experiencing homelessness


For too long

the plan has been unknown.

Where to eat?

What to eat?

Where to sleep?

Tired and Hungry


For too long

we have wandered from place to place.

How to get there?

When can we get there?

How soon do we need to leave?

Shhh-shhh-quiet don’t get us kicked out!


For too long

I hide my fear,

I stay hidden

From my friends,

From my teachers,

From the world.



For too long

I have kept a secret,

To keep us together,

To not ask for help,

To not let anyone know,

Not their business



For too long

I have not had my own bed,

My own life,

My own choices,

My own Friends.


But soon it might change

A new apartment,

A new bed,

A new start.


Soon it might be

a chance to stay in one place,

In one school,

Make some friends.


Maybe soon I can learn,

Really ask for help,

Read an entire book,

Finish what I started,



Soon, soon

We might move into our own place

Our own space,

Our new chance,

A new beginning


I hope my friends, schools, neighbors understand

how long the journey has been,

And how much hope I have for a new start,

A new dream,

A new life.


This poem was written by a student who had just heard from her Mother that they had been accepted into an apartment after 2 years of homelessness and high mobility.

From: Who We Are 3: Voices in Our Community

MMSD Transition Education Program/Greater Madison Writing Project

May 2014


*Since the writing of this poem housing has fallen through and the family continues to be homeless.  This is her revised version changing the tense from soon to maybe….(Nov.  2014)


The Wishing Tree from the Who We Are program