“Wow! Wow! Wow!” is what Blake Willadsen, the Development Coordinator of the Iowa Homeless Youth Centers exclaimed when he learned of the total amount World Link students placed in Iowa fundraised this year to help homeless youth in their host state.
That total? It was an all-time high for Team World Link, $12,120!
For over the last decade, World Link students have participated in the Annual Reggie’s Sleepout event. They have seen more and more success each year.
What is Reggie’s Sleepout?
This year marks 20 years since the passing of Reggie Kelsey, the young man who aged out of the foster care system in 2001. Unfortunately, he passed away only a short 3 ½ months later after bouncing in and out of homeless shelters and occasionally sleeping outside.
Reggie’s Sleepout was created in 2005 in memory of him and raises money each year to help youth aging out of the foster care system. The program continues to expand because of these donations, giving participants monthly stipends and providing additional services to focus on mental health and workforce development programs.
On top of raising money, the event encourages participants to spend one night sleeping outside in solidarity with those in the community who need the Iowa Homeless Youth Centers’ help.
Participating in the Sleepout
Typically, the sleepout is held at Drake University Stadium, but due to COVID-19 safety precautions, the past two years, participants were encouraged to spend one night in their backyards. Many World Link students camped overnight with their host siblings or in small groups.
For Sesili from Georgia, the sleepout made her realize we don’t always appreciate what we have. Of that night, “I had to think about water, bed, food… my mind doesn’t really appreciate the cup of water I have every morning.”
After his sleepout experience, David from Czechia started to value the comfort of his bed and it gave him more compassion for those experiencing homelessness.
Some students reflected how while they felt safe because they were in their backyard, this wouldn’t be the case if they had to find a place to sleep somewhere they don’t know.
Nazrin from Azerbaijan wrote, “Sleeping outside showed us a little piece of the difficulties for homeless people. [It made me] decide to raise more and more money.” And raise more money she did!
Team World Link
Team World Link had 44 students participate in Reggie’s Sleepout this year. Their team goal was to raise at least $10,000 with a set individual goal of at least $150 each. Most students who participated knocked that goal out of the park!
To raise money, students went door to door in their neighborhoods. They started social media campaigns. They gave presentations to their classmates and community members about the cause. By putting up information and sharing videos during their school advisement period, double placement sisters Marieta from Armenia and Raudhatuz from Indonesia raised $400. A small group of students held a bake sale at their high school football game. One student, Chingis from Kazakhstan put up a lemonade stand!
Students were creative with their fundraising. Bakai from Kyrgyzstan took the opportunity to share a little bit of his culture by giving out souvenir pens to those who donated. Thomas from Greece joined his host mom during her restaurant’s busy Saturday lunch hour, asking tables if they would donate. Not only did this help Thomas get out of his comfort zone, but he was thrilled to raise $400 in just two hours!
Host families were eager to help. Our Moldovan student Vlada N’s host mom taught her how to bake her famous Caramel Apple Pies to raffle off on Facebook. The two pies raised $150 in one day. Sofya from Kazakhstan and her host family made sets of adorable home décor pumpkins to raffle off. From this, she raised $315 and even donated a set to her local nursing home.
Top Team World Link Fundraisers
Nazrin from Azerbaijan and Norbert from Poland were competing to be the top individual fundraiser. This friendly competition put them both as all-time top fundraisers for team World Link in our history of participating in this event!
The Top 6 Team World Link student fundraisers this year were:
- Nazrin Guliyeva (Azerbaijan/IA) – $1,167
- Norbert Sulek (Poland/IA) – $1,010
- Aisulu Bekniyazova (Kazakhstan/IA) – $611
- Sabrina Rokhatkulova (Tajikistan/IA) – $500
- Sesili Basilaia (Georgia/IA) – $500
- Edona Kraja (Montenegro/IA) – $495
What Students Learned
For many World Link students, Reggie’s Sleepout is their first experience in fundraising. It not only helps them think outside the box when asking for donations, but they gain confidence and experience that will help them with their future projects. Here are what World Link students had to say about what they learned:
“For the first time going door to door and asking for money, even for charity, is kind of awkward. However, every time I was feeling uncomfortable, I was thinking about my goal and reason I am doing it for, about homeless youth. I think this event made me more self-confident, brave and more communicative.” – Aisulu Bekniyazova (Kazakhstan/IA)
“This project motivated me to understand more about our society and to learn through practical experience. Additionally, I’ve also gotten better at fundraising and raising awareness of things that are close to my heart.” – Edona Kraja (Montenegro/IA)
“This was my first fundraising experience, so it was a great chance to learn and do something completely new to me… Going door-to-door took a lot of confidence and made me get out of my comfort zone. [In] my mind, this experience was a great start and a great first fundraising project for me!” – Romana Koshtura (Ukraine/IA)
“It was my first time to raise money by going door to door and [it’s] an experience I can do again when I return to my home country to help [those in need].” – Coura Diouf (Senegal/IA)
“It was an eye-opening experience. Spreading the cause and sleeping outside gave me just an idea of what [the homeless] are going through every day. This inspired me as well to start a fundraiser about such phenomena back in my country Greece.” – Thomas Marios Papadopoulos (Greece/IA)
“When I realized that homeless people live on the streets, moving between temporary shelters, I grasped how much I am grateful for having a place to sleep… In the future, I want to continue this challenge by fundraising money for homeless or disabled people and influence others to help our community.” – Aisha Kademova (Kazakhstan/IA)
“Being able to achieve my goal was my big success. When I went door to door, I felt that everyone was ready to help… Overall, the experience was the best among the bests. I learned many new things about the American people.” – Abdurahimov Ismatullo (Tajikistan/IA)
A Heartfelt Thank You
We would like to thank the World Link students who participated in this year’s event for their dedication to helping this important cause. We would like to thank their host families and their host communities for their support as students challenged themselves to reach and exceed our fundraising goal.
To conclude, we would like to pass on this sincere Thank You note, written by Blake to our Regional Program Manager, Karen, who introduces students to this event and continues to encourage them in their efforts.
Thank you for your belief in this cause and the work you put in behind the scenes to make such a huge impact on our homeless youth. Team World Link truly inspires me every time we do this thing. Enjoy a pizza party on us.