For the leaders of the Students H.O.P.E. club at Colorado Academy, the personal outweighs the practical.

“I’ve learned a lot about meeting deadlines, about organization and delegating,” says co-president and senior Thomas Messner. “But the most real-world experience I’ve taken from working with the club is seeing the look on the faces of the people who are less fortunate than I am, and realizing that I can make a difference.”

In its 24th year at Colorado Academy, the Students H.O.P.E. club, which stands for “Helping Other People Eat,” is the largest service-learning project on the CA campus.

The entirely student-run event, which will take place Saturday, December 9, 2017, provides gently used clothing, toiletry and baby care items, new holiday toys, basic medical care including flu shots, and a holiday meal. In addition, this year’s event will include the availability of school supplies that children can select.

Beginning with just 200 attendees in its first year, the event has grown to include nearly 2,000 attendees in 2016 — disadvantaged families bused to CA from downtown shelters.

It’s pretty amazing that we can pull an event this big off with students only. To see the look on the faces of everyone who attends — the volunteers and the attendees — that’s what makes it really worth it.

Planning for the event begins in September. During the H.O.P.E. retreat, volunteers, under the leadership of the three co-presidents — seniors Thomas Messner, Cecilia Needham, and Jessica Brown, as well as two faculty advisers, create a timeline for their goals, and talk about lessons learned from past events. From communications, to fundraising, to food and signage, veteran volunteers brainstorm areas for improvement.

As one group talks about creating signage listing bus pick-up times, Messner says that as a leader, he has learned that it’s important to listen to the opinions of others.“Others’ perspectives coming into the day of the event are so different from mine, and they might point out something I didn’t consider,” he says.

In addition to serving the community, the students also learn many practical skills. Says Needham, “Learning how to talk to adults, and finding ways to raise money—that’s something I’ve learned that I find really important. I’ve also learned a lot about organization, especially when it comes to organizing an event this large.”

In fact, members of Students H.O.P.E. organize the entire day — from chartering buses to take attendees to and from Colorado Academy, to maintaining the budget and collaborating with local shelters to get the word out.

Students H.O.P.E. relies on the donations and generosity of the CA community as well as local businesses. For most of the autumn, there are collection bins set in divisional buildings around campus to collect clothing and toiletry donations.

For Brown, the hard work and long hours spent planning the event are well worth it; seeing the immediate impact of her efforts is a big draw for her to H.O.P.E.

“Sometimes you volunteer and you don’t really see the impact of your what you do,” she says. “With H.O.P.E., you witness the impact you have on people’s lives.”

Adds Needham, who has been volunteering with the club since her freshman year: “It’s pretty amazing that we can pull an event this big off with students only. To see the look on the faces of everyone who attends — the volunteers and the attendees — that’s what makes it really worth it.”