Spencer Elliot (pictured right) has been busy since he attended the Spring 2009 semester of The Island School. Spencer enrolled at Michigan State University and played football there through the end of his sophomore year. After sustaining an injury, he went abroad to Cape Town during the fall of his junior year and interned with a non-profit organization called Sporting Chance. The goal of Sporting Chance was to “provide an opportunity for impoverished youth to have an option to play sports. They also hosted coaching clinics in more affluent areas, but their work in the Townships (or "shanty towns" as my high school text book referred to them) was the cornerstone of their mission”. Spencer is an advertising major so, he spent his time with Sporting Chance crisscrossing all over Cape Town documenting “everything I saw. I went to everything from coaching clinics, to charity events, to school gym classes. I would then turn my footage into promotional videos that Sporting Chance could use to show their sponsors what they were doing. My internship experience allowed me to see Cape Town in its entirety. I saw the beautiful, white beaches with pent house apartments, I saw the tin shacks families live in with no running water and everything in between”. As time passed Spencer realized that there was a true homelessness epidemic in Cape Town, particularly among the youth. After just one month on the job in Cape Town, “I sent a Facebook message to my mom telling her that I couldn't come home for my spring semester, I had fallen in love with Cape Town and felt like there was more I was supposed to do while I was there. She told me that she supported my decision, but it was up to me to find a way to put a roof over my head and work. I started researching non-profits in the Cape Town area, but it didn't take me long to decide I wanted to do to something with street children. I found The Homestead, contacted Paul and the rest is history. Bwatts and I stayed in a 1 bedroom studio apartment smaller than a dorm room and payed $200 dollars per month”.
Bwatts (pictured left above) and Spencer first met in the 8th grade as they played on the same football team together. Their relationship was cordial but certainly never a formal friendship until their senior year in high school. Spencer says he will never forget the moment their friendship began, he was “walking outside of our school and I heard someone digging around in a dumpster. All of a sudden Bwatts stuck his head up and I was shocked. I asked him what he was doing and he told me he was searching for bottle caps for coke rewards. Gosh...I'll never forget it. A couple weeks later, we had the first day of our Media Broadcasting class. The class which aired the school news every day. Our teacher Mrs. Hamersma told us we had to pick a partner to work with throughout the class. I didn't really know why, but as soon as she said that I knew I wanted this kid who was searching for coke rewards in a dumpster to be my partner. I asked him and he was kinda caught off guard. I was too I guess. The whole thing came from left field really. But luckily he said yes and the rest is history. We've been working together ever since” but working for The Homestead is by far the largest project they have ever done together as a team. For a behind the scenes clip covering this moment, look here
In Spencer’s eyes, what makes Cape Town’s current situation so alarming is the number of homeless children on the streets. The Homestead is a non-profit organization based within the greater Cape Town area that provides a chance for homeless kids to receive an education, a team of supportive adults and most importantly a home to boys that would otherwise be homeless. Spencer and his friend Bwatts are currently attempting to raise $50,000 for the benefit of The Homestead. They arrived at that goal after “talking with Paul Hooper, the director of the Homestead. He told us that it cost them on average $1,000 dollars to support one kid for one year. That's including their tuition fees, housing, food, everything”. They arrived at that number because it would provide total at The Homestead for 50 kids that were previously on the street. To raise this money, Spence and Bwatts have created a feature length documentary which launched yesterday here. The documentary they have created “dives into the world of what life at the homestead is like, the work they are doing, the boys stories, the staff members and we tried to integrate some things that will allow people to get a feel for what it was like for two 20 year old best friends to be in Cape Town chasing a dream. We put a priority on trying to make the Documentary as upbeat and interactive as possible. We want the viewer to feel like they are standing there next to us experiencing The Homestead for themselves”.
Spencer’s decision to work in Cape Town was influenced by his time at The Island School back in 2009. It was his first time away from home for an extended period, and his first time experiencing the wonders of a completely different world. Immersing himself “in a new community where I didn't know a soul at such a young age has helped form me into the man I am today”. As a future advertising major, Spencer loved “interviewing locals and hearing their perspectives. Island School remains a turning point in my life where I made a decision about the person I wanted to consciously try to be”.
To conclude, Spencer has a couple shout outs that he would like to make sure are heard. The first goes out to “my entire semester first off. I think about Spring '09 and the legendary faculty we had regularly. I have the glass window tattooed on my left arm for a reason. Because Island School Spring 09 changed my life and I'm forever grateful”. More specifically, he would like to thank former faculty member Andrew “Fieldy” Fields and fellow student Latario “Tario” Moxey. Fieldy was inspirational to Spencer, he describes there as simply being “a goodness about him that was infectious. I trusted him and that was a big deal for me”. Then, Spencer refers to Tario as “one of the most important people I've met in my entire life. We had more important talks than I've probably had with anyone and I will always be thankful that we were able to meet”.
All of us at The Island School wish Spencer nothing but the best in his efforts to raise money for The Homestead. For additional information on what Spencer and Bwatts are up to, check out their Crowdrise campaign page here.