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A student-led, service-based charity program located in Salida, Colorado

Founded in 2019 by Sophie Pressly (then a Salida High School student), Heart of the Community Christmas Drive (HCCD) is now in its fourth year of community collaboration this holiday season. In 2022 alone, they will purchase, wrap and provide gifts to 68 kids as recommended by the Boys and Girls Club and the Chaffee County Early Childhood Council.

HCCD’s approach to helping the community during the holidays is unique — according to their website, it “aims to expose Salida High School students to local nonprofit organizations and promote their presence in the community by dedicating their time to volunteering.

“ In addition, “HCCD puts the money raised by the students and their sponsors towards purchasing Christmas gifts for children in need every holiday season.”

Sophie Pressly, now a second-year college student is still involved and again mentoring SHS senior Kira Kuhl who helped take over the program in 2021. This year, Kira is the driving force and Pressly says she’s  there for backup and advice.

Heart Of The Community Christmas Drive organizers ready the gifts. Photo courtesy HCCD website

Most students are focused on exams at this time of year and looking forward to being home with their friends and family for a well-deserved break. Pressley may yet get some time for that but already took advantage of her own Thanksgiving break to do a gift-wrapping marathon with her family and friends, “the fun part” she says.

“We wrapped about a hundred gifts. It’s all over the house and kind of ‘a happy mess’,” she said with a big smile.

To encourage students to explore volunteering with area nonprofits, HCCD offers a little friendly competition at the same time. The student who completes the most volunteer hours wins a $500 scholarship, and the student who raises the most money through sponsors also wins a $500 scholarship.

While there are other programs in the area with similar aims of providing holiday joy for children in need, HCCD also specifically tries to reach those who might otherwise run up against the constraints that sometimes tie the hands of human services agencies.

To their great credit, HCCD also partners with others like Baba’s Magical Christmas and the Tree of Hope (both profiled by AVV this week) to trade needs and share resources for the greater good of the community. “It’s so easy to connect with someone who’s running another program and figure out how to work with them to cohesively handle all the needs,” said Pressly.

How You Can Help

So far this year, HCCD has raised $1,425 in direct donations toward its $3,000 goal. Additional funds are needed to ensure no child is left out. Direct donations may be made on the HCCD web site.

If community members know of volunteer needs from area nonprofits, HCCD organizers ask that they get in touch with Pressly or Kuhl. This will help widen the circle of opportunities for students in the time left this year as well as starting in October, their peak student matching time.

Pressly said that one of her goals was to make volunteering opportunities easy for the students to connect with. Sometimes this is a challenge, depending on the time of year and student’s availability and just the time it takes organizers to seek out and qualify nonprofits and their needs.

It should be noted that the Chaffee County Community Foundation (CCCF) has a year-round program called “VIAChaffee”, that seeks to match volunteers with needs. Volunteers fill out an online profile, indicating their interests and availability. Nonprofits list their event-based, project-oriented, or ongoing needs, which often results in a great match. Volunteers can also track their hours on the portal and the software calculates the value of their efforts which frees up reporting time for the nonprofits.

How HCCD Works

Beginning in October, students find sponsors (family, friends, teachers, employers, and others) to donate money to HCCD based on the number of hours they will spend volunteering. Students then volunteer for as many hours as they can during designated volunteering time periods at local nonprofit organizations and track their time spent.

In 2022, these nonprofits include Guidestone and their Annual Pumpkin Patch, Salida Sunrise Rotary Club and Holiday Park, as well as The Grainery Ministries, among others.

After the student turns in their total hours, sponsors receive an invoice for their total donation amount through Square. That money is then used to buy Christmas gifts for the children in need.

Looking Back and Towards the Future

Over the course of three previous holiday seasons, HCCD’s student volunteers have accumulated 383 hours of community service. According to research from Independent Sector, as reported by Philanthropy Colorado, the HCCD volunteer effort has had an actual cumulative value of $12,075 given to our community.

Combined with generous donations from their sponsors, HCCD has raised nearly $15,000 in three years that has gone towards purchasing Christmas gifts for 411 Salida children.

Even with Pressly now in college, others will step up to fill her shoes and the team is working on longer term transition plans to ensure continuity that might involve the school itself. Pressly says she’s working out the details but hopes to transition the program to a Student Council or a school-led club perhaps. She is looking to give the program more financial transparency, as well as ensure ongoing participation.

“It’s a lot but it’s really rewarding and I enjoy doing it so much,” said Pressly.

For more information or with any questions, readers may use the HCCD Contact Form.