“Every December, we bus in anywhere between 1,500 to 2,000 low-income residents from around the Denver metro area,” says CA senior Caroline Reisch, the sun in her eyes as she sits outside on the Colorado Academy campus. “Kids, adults, teens, whoever needs an extra hand during the holidays.”
It’s a scene that has become somewhat of a staple at Colorado Academy: the Newton Athletic Center filled with goodwill and grateful families. Food, clothes, personal care items, holiday toys, and carnival games punctuate the room for CA’s annual Students H.O.P.E. event, of which the senior is co-president.
Students H.O.P.E., which stands for Helping Other People Eat and will take place on December 6, 2014, is the largest service learning project at Colorado Academy, and it is organized and run completely by students.
When it started more than 20 years ago, the event served about 200 people in a downtown Denver homeless shelter. The current effort will serve ten times that many—families bused to campus by CA from downtown shelters and agencies. Reisch calls it a “one-stop shop” for the holidays, because families can get everything from personal-care items, gifts, and vaccinations to a holiday meal, and even a visit with the big guy.
This year’s event will also feature for the first time a book drive in order to add what Reisch calls an “educational element.” Student volunteers are in full force sorting out the details and Reisch thumbs through her binder reading off the laundry list of things to do: sending out letters to alums, filling out work orders, collecting books, organizing and ordering food; getting donations.
To aid with the latter duty, the club has set up donation bins in the Lower, Middle and Upper School hallways to collect clothing and toiletry items. This year, Students H.O.P.E. is asking for clothing donations to be separated and labeled according to gender, and toiletry donations to be bagged and labeled separately.
“Every December, we bus in anywhere between 1,500 to 2,000 low-income residents from around the Denver metro area. Kids, adults, teens, whoever needs an extra hand during the holidays.”
Helping to organize these efforts is fellow co-president, Carrie Fritzinger, who says, “not only are we providing basic necessities, but we are also instilling in everyone a sense of community. Everyone gathers in the gym, celebrating the holiday, and I think those we are serving feel comfortable and grateful.”
It seems that gratitude is the theme of the event, where every year the emotion appears on the faces of the families served. Reisch, who has worked with Students H.O.P.E. since her freshman year, recalls one such scene. “I remember handing a little boy a football and then just seeing the look on his mom’s face. Once you experience that, it keeps you coming back.”
All together, about 100 students volunteer for the event, and Fritzinger says it’s those students who receive the real gift. “Even though the families believe that we are giving them more than they would ever ask for, it is really the CA students that feel they are gaining the most.”