For about 55 students and a handful of adults at Champlain Valley Union High School, the night of November 21 is one that will likely stay with them for a long time.
As the sunset lit up the evening sky, students pitched about 20 tents on the cold, soggy ground behind the school, preparing to brave the night in solidarity for homeless youth. “Every day, we go to school, we go home, we go to bed,” said Brooke Smith, a junior participating in the Spectrum sleep-out for the second year in a row. “We take for granted the comforts we have. If anything, tonight’s a wakeup call for those of us that have the choice to sleep out tonight, because for some, that choice has been made for them.”
Junior Claire Goldman was taking part for the first time. “I don’t think people realize [homelessness] is all around us. This issue is almost hidden in Vermont,” she said.
The Spectrum sleep-out fundraiser supports Spectrum Youth and Family Services in Burlington, a nonprofit that serves at-risk youth ages 12 to 26 and their families by providing for basic needs such as housing, mentoring, job-skills and counseling.
Senior Mia Brumsted, who has organized the sleep-outs for the past three years, said the experience is an opportunity to, for one evening, step into the shoes of what homeless youth must endure every day, even if it means being uncomfortable.
“I think it’s great that we’re doing this so close to Thanksgiving,” Brumsted said to the group as they gathered for the night. “Because after tonight, we’re all going to realize a little bit more of what this lifestyle is actually like and recognize the things that we take for granted.”
When morning came, students broke camp and headed into school for the day. “Some people have to do this every day for years, and that’s their reality. Recognizing that is important,” Smith said. Senior Chandlee Crawford said that sleeping out even one night in the cold rain helped him put himself “in other people’s shoes.”
Fundraising around the sleep-out also gave students a chance to talk with friends and family about an issue many might not have paid attention to before. “I’m here to raise awareness for the fact that some people have to do this every day,” Crawford said.
Spectrum Executive Director Mark Redmond attended the CVU event to share the message of Spectrum’s work. He commended Brumstead for her leadership and CVU for getting behind the issue.
Like the Penguin Plunge each winter for Vermont Special Olympics, Redmond said he thinks the sleep-out events have taken root at CVU. “I think it’ll be a tradition. They have an activist student body,” he said.
Spectrum began sleep-out fundraisers about eight years ago, and the effort has grown each year with supporters organizing events around the region, mostly in the springtime, Redmond said. Brumsted said this week that the CVU event had surpassed its $5,000 fundraising goal with $7,200 collected so far. Its online donation site remains open with a new goal of $10,000.
Learn more about Spectrum and support the CVU fundraiser at the website.
Community News Service is a collaboration with the University of Vermont’s Reporting & Documentary Storytelling program.