On December 9, 2023, as many as 2,000 guests from across the Denver Metro Area will come to the campus of Colorado Academy—some taking advantage of round-trip bus transportation provided at no charge by CA—to participate in HOPE, an annual holiday-themed event that offers free clothing, school supplies, toiletries, baby essentials, toys, food, medical care, fun activities, community services, and much more to families in need. Now in its 30th year, the entirely student-led initiative involves hundreds of members of the CA community, and it depends on donations—both material and financial—from scores of CA families.
“HOPE demonstrates the true power in the act and art of giving,” says Head of School Dr. Mike Davis. “It brings together students, faculty, staff, families, volunteers, and community members to create remarkable memories and moments. I am grateful to the student leaders who make this event a success each year.”
Seniors Ellen Clowes, Daniel Farmer, and Maddy Reeves, this year’s HOPE co-presidents, have been working throughout the fall to organize the special day. With many years of HOPE experience between them, these co-presidents are passionate about the way the event can bring together the CA community, as well as foster connections throughout the larger Denver Metro Area.
According to Farmer, “We’re really lucky to be here at CA, and HOPE is a way to reach out to the community beyond our campus and sort of bring the Denver Metro community in.”
Reeves, who, like Farmer, first participated while in Middle School at CA, says, “What keeps me coming back is seeing how much of an impact we can make for our guests. It’s easy for us to take for granted everything that we have here and how awesome the holiday season can be for many of us, but HOPE recognizes that not everyone gets that privilege.”
For Clowes, another HOPE leader who first became involved while in Middle School, the tangible results are what matters most. “In a lot of service work, including some we participate in annually here at CA, we know we’re doing good, but we often don’t see the impact. With HOPE, you can witness how your contribution makes somebody else’s day better.”
A huge undertaking
The amount of work that goes on behind the scenes, in the months leading up to the actual HOPE Saturday, is impressive.
Beginning the first week of the school year, Clowes, Farmer, and Reeves recruited and trained a corps of directors, who in turn work with teams of associates to solicit donated items, oversee ongoing drives throughout the school, plan games and activities, arrange for food to be served, partner with organizations that can provide health care and other services, coordinate free bus transportation for the attendees—many of whom come from shelters in the Denver Metro Area—and manage every other aspect of the day. All told, 60 to 70 Upper School students are officially involved in the planning, with hundreds of additional volunteers from all three divisions participating on the day of the event.
The co-presidents also are in charge of the official HOPE website and all communications, such as solicitation letters that go to potential donors, flyers that are posted at community organizations throughout the Denver area, email messages to CA students and families, and more. They speak at Town Hall meetings in both the Upper School and the Middle School to sustain interest and involvement in HOPE throughout the fall. They manage the receipt and storage of donations and other items, and they are responsible for coordinating with CA’s Operations team to ensure ample space, food, and refreshments are available to welcome the huge influx of campus visitors on the day of the event.
For 2023, the leaders are focusing on making CA’s 94 acres feel as comfortable and inclusive for guests as possible. That means increasing the HOPE team’s capacity to provide translation services to the many Spanish-speaking families who attend, some year after year.
“We have an entire student section with its own director that’s dedicated to language and logistics,” explains Clowes. “When people get here, we want CA to feel like a safe place for them, where they can talk to somebody at any time to find out what we offer and how they can take advantage of it.”
Adds Reeves, “Our Spanish-speaking student volunteers will wear special colored T-shirts so people can easily find them. We’re excited to show the families that we want them here—HOPE is for them.”
Farmer emphasizes that the HOPE team this year is working hard to build genuine, lasting connections with organizations such as nonprofits and shelters that can help their constituents access the event. “We’re trying to reach more people more effectively, so they don’t feel they’re getting another one-time newsletter about something that’s not really built for them.”
Ensuring effective post-event followup is another priority for the organizers, who want to see leftover clothing donations and food go to organizations that can extend the impact of HOPE beyond one Saturday in December.
But most of all, Clowes, Farmer, and Reeves want to build the size and scale of HOPE back to pre-pandemic levels, when close to 2,000 guests would regularly attend. With less than half that number coming to campus each year since COVID-19 forced a cancellation in 2020, the co-presidents are intently focused on increasing attendance.
“We’re excited to take on the challenge of inspiring more people to come to campus,” explains Farmer. “We feel increasing our capacity to offer translation and deepening our outreach in the community will make this year a success.”
Ready for this moment
Amidst their schedules packed with academics and activities and the added stress of college admission season, the 2023 HOPE co-presidents are remarkably calm about managing several hundred volunteers who will serve thousands.
Perhaps that’s because they’ve been practicing for this moment for years.
As longtime HOPE participants, these CA Seniors have not only learned first hand what it takes to stage a meaningful service event, but they have also seen over their years at CA the impact that the school’s values can make in the world.
As Clowes, who first came to CA as a preschooler, puts it, “We’ve all been at CA for a long time, and we’ve been taught all of these values—kindness, leadership, curiosity, courage. And now HOPE feels like this cumulative moment where I get to use all those ideals and skills to give back to CA and the wider community. Because they’ve given me so much.”