The winners of Columbine High School’s Big Idea Project learned that giving back to the community is its own reward.
The project tasks students in Columbine’s business class to create a business model to help the community in some way, with the winning group receiving a scholarship.
The project, started by Columbine teacher Bryan Halsey in 2011, has spread to Green Mountain High School in Jeffco, Rangeview High in Aurora and Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School in Denver.
The four students behind Columbine’s winning project — seniors Bryce Ramirez, 17, and Daniel Armstrong, 18, and juniors Landon Kramer, 16, and Kyle Mayberry, 16 — decided to help the large homeless population in the Denver metro area. They each won a $500 college scholarship for their efforts.
The four suburban teens didn’t know how or where to begin their project. So they went directly to the people they wanted to help.
“We went downtown and asked around the homeless community what we could do to help,” Ramirez said.
The four were told that one of the main problems facing homeless people in Denver is not being able to carry their few possessions. And that’s when the students decided to provide backpacks filled with toiletries, gloves and food.
“One of the people we met had a small backpack and had a lot of stuff, so he had to stash his stuff in different places, a lot of times in bushes. And it would get stolen, so he’d lose everything he had,” Ramirez said.
The four students asked their fellow classmates to donate backpacks and toiletries. When the drive fell short, they texted everyone they knew.
In the end, they collected 29 backpacks and enough toiletries, food and clothing to fill them all. They also collected another 248 pounds of toiletries for the Denver Rescue Mission.
“I think we thought we’d just say, ‘Here’s a backpack; have a good day.’ But then we wanted to invest our time more, and we got to know them,” Ramirez said.
The relationships the four built with members of the homeless community opened their eyes to their struggles.
“Sometimes you wake up, and you feel like you have stuff bad. And then you go down there and see what they go through and see their struggle,” Mayberry said.
The experience also shattered the students’ preconceived notions about the people they were helping.
“We were wrong. A lot of people, myself included, kind of think homeless people are lazy and not looking for a job. A lot of the people we talked to are out looking for a job every day,” Armstrong said. “For them, knowing somebody actually cares about you is a big thing. When you’re on the streets every day and people look past you or tell you to get a job, you just don’t feel like people care about you.”
Kramer said, “Growing up in Littleton, you see homeless people on the side of highways asking for money, and you turn your head and try not to make eye contact. But once you get involved, you see how much one backpack can do, how much it can impact someone’s life.”
The four said they’re still collecting supplies and visiting weekly with the homeless people they met.
To see the group’s video about the winning project and to learn more about the Big Idea Project, visit www.bigideaproject.org.