Diocesan News

Queens Catholic School Principal Spends Rainy Night ‘Homeless’

PROSPECT HEIGHTS — The weather forecast called for a cold, rainy night Nov. 18 as Dorothea Breen crawled into bed — literally.

The principal at Immaculate Conception Catholic Academy in Jamaica Estates, Queens, had to get on hands and knees to enter the large cardboard box that was her room for the night.

ICCA Principal Dorothea Breen did not sleep much as rain soaked her cardboard-box shelter during the “Sleep Out” fundraiser for Covenant House. (Photos: Courtesy of Immaculate Conception Catholic Academy)

Her “Sleep Out” was part of a national fundraising effort for Covenant House, a nonprofit that works to rescue, care for, and protect runaways and homeless children. It has grown to serve 31 cities across six countries since its 1972 founding in New York City, where it is still based.

Breen’s best friend from college, Monica Harrigan of Valley Stream, recruited her to be on a Sleep Out fundraising team. The box was parked in Monica’s backyard.

According to the organization’s website, a Sleep Out is not about pretending to be homeless. Instead, it said, “We Sleep Out to show our solidarity with those who are — and to let the world know about the ever-growing population of young people who face homelessness.”

Breen came prepared to do her part. 

Decked out in ski attire, she announced on a video that she was turning in for the night.

“Here it is,” Breen said. “It is almost 10 o’clock on Nov. 18, and I’m going into the box, sleeping outside, to raise money for homeless children.”

She thanked supporters for donations.

Principal Dorothea Breen’s temporary lodgings came with toilet facilities: a large bucket lined with a trash bag. The crude conditions replicated the daily experiences of homeless children.

“I love you all,” the principal said, and she blew a kiss to the camera.

Next, she tunneled head first into her home away from home, unable to keep from laughing at her predicament.

She rolled over onto a sleeping bag and, still laughing, reported, “I’m in the box!”

The weather forecast proved accurate.

“It poured rain, and it was very windy,” Breen said later. “And the temperature dropped about 34 degrees.”

The box, elaborately decorated by the academy’s pre-K students, was positioned under a tarp. Still, it absorbed windswept rainwater like a sponge. The various painted messages, loosened by rain, bled into each other, creating a multicolor collage.

“I woke up at 2 a.m. in a puddle of water, cold and soaking wet,” Breen said. “The entire box was soaking wet. It was very uncomfortable.”

A tarp could not stop windblown rain from soaking the cardboard box that ICCA Principal Dorothea Breen used for nighttime shelter during the “Sleep Out” fundraiser.

She added that, “I said many prayers for those who do this every night.”

Breen’s team raised $4,200 for Covenant House; $500 of that amount came from her students. She thanked them all for their work. She extended gratitude to the parents who built the cardboard shelter and to the pre-K kids who decorated it.

“These are 3- and 4-year-olds,” Breen explained. “These are our babies. So they painted it to make it pretty cool. They did their handprints; they tried to write their names. I was very excited for them to be able to be a part of it.”

Breen said she plans to endure another Sleep Out next year and will challenge ICCA faculty to do likewise.

“You know, it really brought to light to me what people go through, and especially children,” she said. “I’d rather have been that way, wet and cold, as opposed to sunny and warm, because that wouldn’t have resonated with me.”

Pre-k students at Immaculate Conception Catholic Academy decorate the large box that their principal, Dorothea Breen, used for shelter during a “Sleep Out” fundraiser for Covenant House. The New York City-based non-profit aids homeless children.