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Stepping Up to Ease Pain of Homelessness

20,000 People Participate in 17th-Annual Fundraiser

By Avis Thomas-Lester
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 21, 2004; Page C03

When 10-year-old Ana Vanessa Ploumpis complains that she doesn't get something she wants, her mother reminds her that she should be thankful for what she has.

"She tells me: 'You are lucky for the things you have because some people don't have anything. They don't have homes, they don't have cars, they don't have enough to eat and everything,' " Ana Vanessa said.


Former Baltimore Orioles star Cal Ripken Jr., honorary chairman of the annual Help the Homeless Walkathon, leads participants on the Mall. (Photos James A. Parcell -- The Washington Post)

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To carry that message further, her parents, Valerie Ploumpis and Sarah Booth of the District's Chevy Chase neighborhood, took Ana Vanessa and her brother, Ricky, 8, to the Mall yesterday to participate in the 17th-annual Help the Homeless Walkathon. The family was among more than 20,000 people who participated in the five-kilometer (3.1-mile) walk sponsored by the Fannie Mae Foundation and other organizations.

Fannie Mae officials said the walk raised $6.5 million last year; they were calculating this year's amount yesterday.

Proceeds from the walk will benefit 180 Washington area groups that serve homeless men, women and families. Officials estimate that the Washington area has as many as 14,000 homeless people.

Stacey Davis Stewart, president of the Fannie Mae Foundation, said as many as 75,000 people have participated in several "mini-walks" this fall. She said it is now more important than ever to work toward ending homelessness because so many children lack a place to live.

"Not all [homeless people] are on the streets," Stewart said. "A lot of them are living in shelters, or they are doubling or tripling up in housing units with other family members. Or they're moving from place to place, from friend to friend."

Yesterday's walk was also an opportunity for parents and teachers to educate children about the nation's homeless.

Bim Schauffler, 48, director of the international student program at Sandy Spring Friends School in Montgomery County, took 20 students from several countries, including Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, China and South Korea.

Several of the students, whose $15 entry fees were paid by Fannie Mae, said they were surprised when they moved to the United States to discover the homeless problem in what they saw as a land of limitless opportunity.

Tony Xu, 17, of Beijing said: "In the United States, it depends on how much you try. If you don't try, you can be homeless."

Sangjun Kim, 18, and Kwonsik Baek, 17, both of Seoul, disagreed.

"Some people don't have good luck, and some people don't have opportunities, even though they live in America," Baek said.

"That's why this walk was so good," Kim said. "Even though America is the richest country, there are some people who are very poor. Those who are rich or have money have an obligation to help those who are poor."

That is the message that adult members of Beaver Creek Church of the Brethren wanted to instill in the church's younger members. For the seventh year, the Hagerstown, Md., church gathered a large contingent -- this year, 40 people -- and brought it to the walkathon. The group also raised about $2,000 for the Brethren Nutrition Program, a Capitol Hill soup kitchen.

Two years ago, children from the church visited the soup kitchen, helped serve food and met many of the people who eat there.

"It was kind of sad, but once you sat down and talked to the people, it wasn't like you thought it would be -- they are regular people, too," said Jessica Minnick, 17, whose mother, Jean, organizes the annual trip from Hagerstown.


© 2004 The Washington Post Company