With wrapped gifts, clothing, health care, and a warm holiday meal, Students H.O.P.E. (Helping Other People Eat) has long been Colorado Academy’s way of giving back to the community during the holidays. This year, when H.O.P.E. takes place on December 1, the tradition marks an official anniversary—25 years. It started in 1993 with CA students providing a meal for 200 residents of a Denver homeless shelter. In 2017, more than 2,000 underserved members of the community came to CA for H.O.P.E. The event has survived and flourished due to the commitment of students like Aly Gallagher, one of the three Co-Presidents this year.
“I have always felt that I have so many blessings and opportunities at CA,” Gallagher says. “That’s why I wanted to be able to give back to others.”
On September 26, Gallagher, along with fellow Co-Presidents Gretchen Carpenter and Emily Dawson, officially launched “Students H.O.P.E. 25” at the Upper School Town Hall. This will be the first time H.O.P.E. is held in the new Field House. It is also the first year that students developed a website to communicate with donors and the community-at-large.
“What has always impressed me about the leadership of H.O.P.E. is that every year they add new elements,” says Upper School Principal Dr. Jon Vogels. “Every year, it gets better.”
‘A warm holiday meal and a warm smile’
If you ask Gretchen Carpenter to describe H.O.P.E., she takes a big breath and doesn’t miss a beat. “It’s one day when we have more than 2,000 people on campus—some driving here, some being bused—and we offer them gently used clothing, gift-wrapped toys, a visit with Santa Claus, games for children, school supplies, health care (including flu shot and eye exams), a warm holiday meal—and a warm smile.”
The event is entirely run by students organized in a strict chain of command. The three Co-Presidents are at the top with specific responsibilities: Gallagher is in charge of clothing, games, and fundraising; Carpenter is in charge of food, health care, and community outreach; Dawson is in charge of personal care items, toys, decorations, and Santa’s visit. All three are splitting responsibility for school supplies.
Reporting to the Co-Presidents are 29 Directors who divide up duties. Below them are associates and volunteers offering all students a way to participate that fits with their schedules.
Carpenter, who confessed that she is a fan of pie for dessert, was motivated to start helping H.O.P.E. her Freshman year after hearing there was a drive to collect the pies to be served at the holiday meal. “I thought it was an insane amount of pies that we needed to collect!” she laughs. “I thought to myself, ‘I have to be a part of this!’”
Dawson started as a volunteer in Grade 7 and worked her way up through every level. “You learn to appreciate a chain of command and knowing that someone has your back,” she says. “Not all the responsibility is on you.”
Gallagher points out that the students do have faculty advisers—but they are “just that, helpful advisers. The students run the event.”
“We have to learn to trust each other,” she says. “I’ve learned that some people can do things better than I can, so if I trust them to do that, it will be better for the event.”
How can people help?
In the Lower School and Middle School, the future Presidents of H.O.P.E. are already waiting in the wings, ready to carry this tradition forward for another 25 years.
Students can support H.O.P.E. by volunteering or working as associates. Families can help Students H.O.P.E. by donating money on the website; funds will go toward purchasing gifts and other items, including backpacks for students in need. The CA community can also help by donating gently used clothing in the bins which will be placed around campus. Starting in mid-October, students will hold a diaper drive in the Middle School and a backpack/school supplies drive in the Lower School.
With support from everyone, the three Co-Presidents believe they can reach their goals for this year’s H.O.P.E. “On the day it happens, you see people walk through the door, and they all have smiles,” Dawson says. “It’s a joyous time for them and for us because we can see our work come to life.”
“I can’t imagine having a Christmas morning without toys,” Gallagher adds. “But that is a reality for some people. We can provide an experience that has always been a given in my life.”