BY CAROLINE SLACK & MATTHEW PAWLOWSKI | COMMUNITY NEWS SERVICE | DEC. 7, 2019
For Vermonters fortunate enough to have been in warm homes last Thursday, the evening most likely passed by uneventfully, save for some slight annoyance at the cold rain thrashing against their windows.
But for about 55 students and a handful of adults at Champlain Valley Union High School, the night of Nov. 21 is one that will likely stay with them for a long time.
As the sunset lit up the evening sky, students pitched 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 from Hinesburg 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 from Hinesburg 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, life-skills coaching, and counseling.
Senior Mia Brumsted of Shelburne, who has organized the sleepouts 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.
In attendance that evening was Spectrum Executive Director Mark Redmond who commended Brumstead for her leadership. “It takes one student or teacher that really believes in it to get it going, and Mia was that one person,” he said.
Spectrum began sleep-out fundraisers about eight years ago, the effort growing each year. Organizers said they hoped for the CVU event to bring in $5,000 through donations participants collected and from the CVU community at large.
Learn more and support Spectrum online at spectrumvt.org.
Community News Service is a collaboration with the University of Vermont’s Reporting & Documentary Storytelling program.