ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Rochester City School District’s ‘Families in Transition’ program recently received its first of three rounds of grant funding from the state to support students facing homelessness.

The program is run via the federal 1987 McKinney-Vento act, ensuring all students facing homelessness have their educational needs met. 30 Hart Street in Rochester serves as a hub for students and families in the program.

One student who had been experiencing homelessness just three years ago is now on track to soon graduate high school and earn her degree. The shift in her journey began with an immediate connection to an assistant.

Naychaile Olantorres is a Northeast student who is currently taking online recovery classes.
She was connected to Rochester City School District’s ‘Families in Transition’ program three years ago when circumstances were much different.

“I was sleeping under a bridge that day and if it wasn’t for Miss Elda making those phone calls that day, I was like….she’s my hero so! She got me where I’m at right now,” Naychaile explains.

Elda Lopez Santala is a Bilingual Homeschool Assistant within the Families in Transition program. The support and love she has given to Naychaile over the past few years is something she didn’t know had such deep meaning.

“I’m almost in tears…when I heard her talk I didn’t know how much I can impact a person so, I mean really…with anything, even a hug or a ‘hi’ can say a lot and may go a long way,” says Santala.

“She knew what to do and she came to me and she got me transportation. I was able to go to school because of her. I was able to finish that year, because of her. I was able to get my health back together because of her,” adds Naychaile. “And because of this program I’m better, and I’m continuing to finish school because of this program and I’m thankful for that.”

The program provides a wide range of services for students and families, whether it’s a few school supplies once, or greater needs on a weekly basis.

“In ensuring their rights we want to make sure to eliminate barriers and sometimes those barriers can be…what may seem simple or small to other people, like maybe even having uniforms to go to school, can be a barrier to a student,” says Elizabeth Reyes, Executive Director – Equity, Inclusion and Social-Emotional Supports at RCSD.

“They’ve helped a lot with housing. They’ve helped a lot with school, with tutoring and with other things too, with personal things as well, like counseling and stuff and that’s a great help because I know that for me, it’s really tough because I don’t have that extra hand,” Naychaile explains.

Ultimately, the people who make up the program are providing so much more than just resources.

“We built this little relationship and trying to guide her the proper way and she was a different person…You would not believe the person that I’m looking at right now is totally different, so she comes a long way,” says a prideful Santala in reflecting on Naychaile’s journey.

“I always come to her for advice because she’s the best with it. Always! And I can look up to her. That’s why I always say she’s my hero,” Naychaile says with a warm smile on her face, gently placing her hands over her heart.

Naychaile is currently on track to soon graduate and earn her diploma after three years of hard work and dedication. The program, overall, has helped more than 1,500 families and students last year alone.