VACAVILLE — A handful of teenagers are doing what they can to help the homeless, and to apply the lessons learned from their school’s leadership program.
Will C. Wood High School senior Nathaniel Guzzo and a few classmates in recent weeks have collected supplies and backpacks. He said local businesses and churches as well as individual students and teachers have collected money or donated goods for the project.
Each backpack comes filled with items that most people take for granted, but could make life on the streets a bit better: socks, gloves, a scarf, emergency blanket, toothbrush, comb and food. They hope to distribute the backpacks next week.
The whole idea came from a news story out of Seattle.
“I got sent a video from my girlfriend about a couple in Washington who makes the backpacks, so I sent it to (leadership teacher Jared Ropelato), thinking, ‘Hey, we should do this,’ ” Guzzo said Thursday as he and several classmates continued packing the backpacks in a portable classroom on the Wood campus.
That was the morning of Jan. 9. By that night Guzzo had a plan put together and presented his idea to the Vacaville school board, which was receptive to the idea.
Leadership class members received support from Trustee Shelley Dally in the form of backpacks, and from Trustee Chris Flask, who along with Genentech provided microfiber towels and space blankets, Guzzo said.
Class members aimed high but were forced to scale things back to match funding.
“Our original goal was 60,” Guzzo said in identifying how many backpacks the class hoped to produce. “District rules don’t allow us to use some funds that we were going to use, so we won’t make that (goal) of 60, but our plan is to make as many as we can and deliver them next week.”
Once the group has enough backpacks to distribute, Guzzo said he hopes to work with Vacaville police and firefighters, and to possibly visit local homeless camps to deliver the bags. Otherwise at least one local church has a weekly meal where the backpacks could be distributed.
The campus community has gotten behind the project.
“I’ve talked to other kids around campus and I’ve talked to our leadership (classmates) and they’re proud that our leadership is able to do something like this,” senior Arjun Vadlamudi said. “Because this is a pretty unique opportunity that others haven’t really partaken of. So it’s new and it’s exciting.”
Ropelato has overseen the transition of the leadership class from a seniors-only program to one that’s open to all students, and focused on service.
“We’re here to serve our students,” he said. “We’re here to serve our community, we’re here to serve our school and that mindset has been picked up by all the grade levels.”
Guzzo, Vadlamudi and others worked to fill about a dozen backpacks Thursday, packing items and taking inventory of what’s still needed. For senior Matt Sherman, working on the backpacks is a way for him to give back.
“Having the opportunities that I’ve been given, with student leadership and Link Crew and playing sports – not everybody gets those kind of opportunities,” Sherman said. “This is kind of my of giving those opportunities back to other people who might not have gotten those opportunities when they were my age.”
The potential significance of the backpacks to their recipients has not gone unnoticed.
“One of these backpacks may go to somebody who’s not going to make it through the next month,” Sherman said. “I know if I was in that situation, it would make my life. These are things that we’re used to being given.”
Vadlamudi said he hopes the project can be part of the group’s legacy at Wood.
“Part of my four years here was making a positive impact,” Vadlamudi said. “After I leave here, all I’ve done for this school and this community is what I’ll have to be remembered by. It’s important that you make a positive impact and you help other people because this school has done a lot for me.”
Jeffrey Teel, a junior, said he hopes to keep that legacy alive.
“I’d like to see this happen again next year, maybe with a little more time, and maybe to reach out to more places,” Teel said. “I feel like it could go very far.”
Reach Mike Corpos at 427-6979 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/mcorposdr.