“There is no way this is right. This has to be wrong,” exclaimed Spencer Brown, founder of Sanctuary 212, an initiative to help the homeless students of Lawton Public Schools.
Enrolling in the last semester of his senior year at Eisenhower High, Brown noticed a pamphlet stating that LPS had more than 800 homeless students in its district. When his guidance counselor, Ms. Shawn Green, confirmed the information, Brown knew he needed to help.
“I talked to Dad and said, ‘we have to do something,’” he said.
Brown and his father, Michael Brown, owner and president of the Lawton-based construction firm CBDL, “met with Andrea Winstead, the LPS homelessness liaison, Jervis Jackson, who is involved with homeless veterans, and Ms. Rita Love, and gave a presentation to the Lawton Housing Authority board.” That meeting allowed Sanctuary 212 “to join under their umbrella so we could begin raising funds for the kids,” Brown stated.
Getting its name from the boiling point of water, the concept behind S212, as it is commonly known, is “to give that extra degree so these kids get whatever they need to be successful students,” said Brown.
Plans to provide a safe haven for homeless LPS students are in the works, but funding has been a challenge, he said.
“We can raise $350,000 this year. With the outreach we’ve received over the past year, we could raise that in this community. Lawton cares about these kids but finding sustainable funding” is a whole new ballgame, said Brown. “We’re looking for something that will fund us for like five years at a time.”
In late 2018, members of the S212 board went before the city council asking for help covering the annual operating expenses for the 24-hour shelter designed to accommodate eight high school students. But the city was unable to help.
“Some of their reasoning was that a portion of the kids technically have a place to stay, whether it be with other family members, on their friend’s couch or whatever.
And I get that. I do. But what about the ones who don’t?” he asked.
“We have a site selected that would house four boys and four girls, but there are renovations that need to be done to get the home up to DHS standards.”
While S212 is pursuing grants and funding for the shelter, they have done several smaller projects in the community. With the help of local sponsors, the organization has been able to provide food during breaks, hygiene products and supplies and even the means to have clean clothes to many underprivileged kids in the community.
“We installed a washer and dryer at Lawton High for some of the kids to use,” he said. “There was a teacher there who was taking home students’ clothes because they didn’t have anywhere to wash their clothes.”
After meeting with several of the students the organization is helping, Brown stated that about 90 percent have a higher GPA than he did in high school. “And when I speak with them, I’m inspired to help even more.”
Looking forward to his junior year at Cameron University, the PLUS (Presidential Leaders and University Scholars) recipient has continued to work with others.
Last year, as part of the Student Alumni Association, Brown helped students find mentors in their fields of study “to see if they will like the careers in their major,” he said. “Also, we created the Campus Closet, turning a vacant dorm room into a free supply pantry for students in need.”
The 19-year-old Cameron pitcher is currently involved with the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, giving student athletes the opportunity to volunteer and show community support. SAAC also hosts the annual Military vs. Cameron basketball game, bringing about 700 soldiers to the Aggie gym, said Brown.
The plans to build the shelter are not completely on hold, said Brown. He and others on the board continue to look for grants and “sustainable long-term funding to start taking in kids and giving them a place to stay.”