Lakewood students helping the homeless

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Students at Vivian Elementary are learning about the power of connection by volunteering at the Denver Rescue Mission.

Through funding from the Jefferson Foundation’s Lights On After School program, students are able to make the trip to downtown Denver once a month to serve those in need.

“This is a program that we’ve been doing for 12 years and it’s something we wouldn’t be able to do without the Lights On After School program,” said Sharon Coffman, who teaches fourth through sixth grade for students with Significant Identifiable Emotional Disabilities (SIED) at Vivian. She also instituted the program at the school. “It’s a great way to bring the kids together because it’s open to all students.”

Around eight students from the school are taken for each two-hour trip, along with parents and volunteers, and everyone is given a turn to go and help. Coffman said that all newcomers get a tour of the facility to see how the mission is run.

Those who volunteer work in the kitchen, preparing food trays, cleaning and setting up dinner tables, sorting food donations and whatever other tasks need doing.

For a few years volunteers would drive the students to the mission, but the Jefferson Foundation’s program allowed them to travel more safely, and with more participants. Coffman said the volunteer program wouldn’t be able to continue without the work the foundation does.

“The Lights program is a partnership between us and the Mile High United Way, which gives $6-to-8,000 for after-school activities,” said Katie Tiernan, executive director for the foundation. “Kids who participate in these kinds of activities have better attendance, more positive adult role models, and stronger feelings of belonging in school. All of these things contribute to on time graduation.”

Coffman said that one of the major benefits for the students is that they see how alike everyone is.

“The see homeless people are not so different from them, and many of the homeless share their stories and some of the poor choices they made,” she said. “It really helps to inspire the students to make their own good choices.”

The trips become something the students really look forward to, according to Coffman, and really inspire them to do more service on their own.

“It makes them really aware of how they can help in the community,” she said.