Homeless substitute brings out best in former Niles North students
Henry Wolfson, a substitute teacher, enjoys a cup of coffee and a laugh. The students decided to help Wolfson after learning he was living in a homeless shelter. | Contributed photo
Updated: October 21, 2012 1:18PM
Henry Wolfson was living in a homeless shelter in Chicago when a quartet of his former students from Niles North High School learned of his situation.
And they decided to do something to make sure the life of their former substitute teacher improved.
The four created a page at www.giveforward.com on Labor Day. The site is designed to let people or groups raise money for a good cause with some help from a coach who can offer advice on the best way to encourage giving.
So far the group has raised more than $33,000 that will be used to help Wolfson find a permanent place to live.
“We just want him to have a place he can call home,” said Anita Zaia, one of the four former students who started the fundraiser.
After teaching for 26 years as an almost daily substitute at Niles North and McCracken Middle School, both in Skokie, Wolfson, 66, ended up in the homeless shelter as a result of medical costs, high insurance premiums and rent.
Zaia said as a sub he did not have the same benefits as regular full-time teachers.
He also lacked support from family that might have helped him through the rough times, she said.
“He doesn’t have that family support. He’s part of our family now,” she said.
In addition to Zaia, Wolfson’s former students Adam and Tony Youhanna and Christina Audisho created Team Mr. Wolfson on the website.
Zaia said Wolfson was not the kind of substitute that got the class in a mood to play around when he walked in. Instead they looked forward to seeing him and knew they would learn a valuable lesson. Attempts to reach Wolfson were not immediately successful.
Some of the comments on the www.giveforward.com site also reflect that.
Nikki Turbin made a donation, adding, “This is such a great cause. I hope this gets Mr. Wolfson the living conditions and support he deserves. Thank you, Mr. Wolfson.”
Four people chipped in anther $500 with the comment: “Stories like this, remind us that God sometimes uses the toughest situations to demonstrate limitless beauty. We are so proud of the organizers of Team Wolfson, particularly our ‘teacher’ Tony.”
Anita said the group originally set a goal of $40,000, but plans on going past that if donations continue to come in.
In addition to a new apartment, she said Team Mr. Wolfson would like to help him with a cell phone he can use to call in for substitute teaching jobs and a car he can use to get there.
Erica Trzeciak, director of user relations and the www.giveforward.com coach for the four students, said it ss unusual to raise so much money so quickly.
“They followed all of our recommendations perfectly,” she said.
What helped, she said, is that the group started with some donations in hand. Also, students were able to reach out to other former students of Wolfson.
“He’s helped so many people in the past, with a fundraiser like this it’s going to go viral,” Trzeciak said.
That’s what Zaia said happened.
“It shows how much of a great person Mr. Wolfson is,” she said.
“He’s always been there for us. We’ll always be there for him. It’s time for us to take care of him.”