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Syndic Literary Journal


July 21, 2022 





February 1989


Written and Narrated by LeRoy Chatfield, 

Loaves & Fishes Executive Director (Ret.)



 “Every  day at Mustard Seed School is its own semester.”


Many years ago, Karen Banker explained  to the Loaves & Fishes Board of Directors that if her volunteer teachers and staff members truly wanted to teach homeless children – as impossible as it might sound – they would have to master the operating principle that each day is its own semester.

Her reason was really quite simple –  at the end of the school day the teachers could not harbor any expectation that any of these homeless  children would return to school tomorrow, or the next day, or ever again.

This day might well be their last day in school and at the end of it  – their semester would be  over  and they would graduate!

It does sound impossible but  Karen Banker, along with her volunteer teachers and staff, have graduated more than 6,200 homeless students during these past 33 years.

I first met Karen Banker in February of 1989 when she was a volunteer at Maryhouse – a daytime shelter for homeless women and children in Sacramento sponsored by Loaves & Fishes.

She came to my office, introduced herself, and asked if she could speak with me. Her first words as I remember them were: “I would like to open a school for homeless children.”

Oh, how many times over these many years had I listened to a sincere, fired-up volunteer propose a project to help the homeless that while well-meaning was  clearly a spur of the moment wishful thought that would soon fade away and die of its own weight.

But for whatever reason, I felt differently about Karen’s request and simply said: starting a school takes a lot of time and energy and commitment. 

I know that, she said, but I want to spend the rest of my life doing this!

With that, Mustard Seed School for Homeless Children was born.

33 Years later – on  Wednesday, June 22, 2022 –  Karen Banker announced her retirement from Loaves & Fishes and Mustard Seed School .

She thanked Loaves for giving her the opportunity to serve homeless children but now at this point in her life she thought 33 years was long enough.

“I started as a Soccer Mom but Loaves transformed my life and taught me about social justice for which I am very grateful.”

Had I been able to be present when she made her announcement,  I would have said to those present  that Karen Banker is one of the most compassionate and non-judgmental persons I have ever known.

that she was a gifted and  tenacious organizer who used her talents to develop a school full of  educational resources to serve the needs of homeless children;

For example: she knew that a homeless child is by definition a hungry child, who would need a hot breakfast to start the school day, snacks for the recess period, a home cooked meal at lunch time, and extra food items to share with the family in the evening;

she recruited like-minded professional teachers and staff members to create a welcoming, well ordered and safe learning environment  removed from the eternal chaos of homelessness;

she understood  the value of playtime for homeless children and to accommodate them, she built a first  class playground facility for her homeless students;

together with her staff, she converted 2 small cottages into 3 well appointed and fully stocked classrooms and office areas. Sometimes it reminded me of an old fashioned  one-room school house from rural California in the 1930s but, Mustard Seed was more alive, more cheerful , well decorated and far more friendly!

It is not uncommon for people to feel sorry for homeless children but still regard them as second-class students because they are not in public schools. Karen would have none of that!  In her school they were all first-class students who were provided not only first rate professional  classroom instruction but such enrichment  programs as field trips and full blown student celebrations of Holidays and Birthdays.

Karen Banker named  her school “Mustard Seed” after the parable Jesus of Nazareth gave to his followers when He said: the mustard seed is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown, it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a 10 to 12 foot tree.

Fast forward to the Mustard Seed School of today – its campus consists of  9 cottages that house  5 classrooms, 3 administrative offices, a counseling center, a multipurpose room and a new playground described to me by Loaves & Fishes Executive Director, Angela Hassell, as “a beautiful new and dynamic space including an outdoor classroom space, play equipment, its own bathroom, an outdoor stage and plenty of room for the kids to run and move around in.” 

Mustard Seed School for Homeless Children is a Sacramento Landmark created by Karen Banker thanks to the generous financial contributions – both large and small – of thousands of people in Sacramento  who believe in her vision about how to help homeless children.

 My time is up!  I have over stayed my welcome!

I close with a Homeless Prayer:

 On behalf of the thousands of homeless students who have graduated from Karen Banker’s Mustard Seed School, I offer  this Homeless Blessing to Karen upon her retirement.

Thank You,  Karen Banker!

God Bless You, Karen Banker!

You Saved Our Lives, Karen Banker!

















Compiled/Published by LeRoy Chatfield
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