PHOENIX - Walking the halls of Children First Academy in downtown Phoenix, you'd never know it was once a car dealership.
But that car dealership is now a school for the homeless, and that school has run out of space.
The walls are painted with bright colors, backpacks hang from hooks in the hall and Principal Bob Meko roams the corridors with a friendly look and a firm handshake.
I asked him if it was the toughest job he's had in the 30 years he's been an educator.
"It's a 10, a 10 out of five!" he said with a laugh. "But it's a good challenge, because what these kids need is love."
Indeed, many of his 300 plus students at 7th Avenue and Filmore in Phoenix don't receive a lot of that.
That's because 97 to 98 percent of the school's students are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.
Some were thrown out of other schools for bad behavior. Meko takes them in and counsels them on respect.
"I don't suspend students," he explains. "I tell them they made a mistake, but everybody makes mistakes. I give them an opportunity to learn from them. I tell them they're staying in school."
Meko says many of the students live in homeless shelters or bounce around between hotel rooms.
From watching the kids in class, it's hard to tell. They have nice clothes, their hair is done and they have smiles on their faces.
"Homelessness is a community issue, not just a Children First Academy issue," said Assistant Principal and Community Development Director Dina Gerdon.
She was eager to show off an area of the school that resembles a warehouse.
It's full of gently used and donated clothes, shoes and toiletry items. The children regularly pick up their supplies there.
"All of this has been donated by the community," Gerdon said pointed to a massive pile of bags that had yet to be sorted. "That's what we rely on to get by."
The school and its staff is once again relying on the community for help.The building is at capacity.
The number of students attending class has reached the limit of 310, but 365 are enrolled.
More are on a waiting list and each year that list grows longer. The school has plans drafted to convert a former grocery store down the street into a new school, but they need $400,000 to make that happen.
They've written grants and applied for loans, but that final $400,000 can only come from individuals and companies looking to help, and they need the funds by November.
"Unless we help these kids, there will be jails full of people when I'm an old man," said Meko.
In spite of their immense challenges, when you ask students about their hopes and dreams, they light up and tell you.
Laura Perez thought for a moment about what she wants to be when she gets older. "A doctor I think. Yeah, a doctor," she said.
If you'd like to help the school raise funds, you can visit the Children First Academy online .
Copyright 2011 Scripps Media, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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