CHICAGO (WLS) -- Thousands of local teenagers are challenging themselves and all of us to make a difference this weekend.
It's the 12th annual Sleep Out Saturday, a youth movement in DuPage County to help homeless neighbors find hope and a home.
It may be hard to imagine, but Jeanette Jelinek and her son were homeless just over a year ago. She said she had finally broken free of an abusive relationship.
"Me and my son had to sleep in the car for four nights," Jeanette said.
Her son, Jaden, was only two years old at the time.
"That was really, really hard. It wasn't hard for me, but to hear your 2-year-old say, 'Mommy I'm cold,' and there's nothing you can do about it but just hold him tighter," Jeanette said.
More than 1,600 children identified as homeless by DuPage County schools last year. That's a 26 percent jump from the year before.
Because of that, high school students like Melina Thurmond and Ali Coch will be part of the Sleep Out Saturday movement - literally sleeping out for one night.
"At first, I thought it was a big commitment, 30 degrees out. We all agreed we need to tough it out; feel what they feel too," Melina said.
"You have so much around your house, take so many things for granted, like heat and your bed," Ali said.
Together, nearly 2,000 teens are raising awareness and funds to change lives.
Money raised in the last 11 years has helped hundreds of families, like Jeanette and Jaden, find transitional housing and counseling.
Although they've never met, Jeanette wants those teens who set out hoping to make a difference to know that they did.
"I want to personally thank them. I really do, because they really changed my life. They helped changed my life," Jeanette said.
Jeanette is also grateful for the help she received through Bridge Communities. They provide transitional housing and counseling for homeless families in DuPage County.
Sleep Out Saturday kicks off in downtown Glen Ellyn with an outdoor rally at 6 p.m. Nov. 7. Every $35 raised will house a homeless family for one night.
To make a pledge, visit www.sleepoutsaturday.org.
Sleep Out Saturday raises money to house homeless families
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