World Link Des Moines Cluster wins top prizes for fundraising and design in the 11th Annual Reggie’s Sleepout Event.
For the 8th year in a row, World Link students placed near Des Moines, Iowa, have participated in Reggie’s Sleepout; an overnight event focused on raising money and advocating for homeless youth in Central Iowa. The event raises awareness of the hardships homeless youth face every night by having participants build and sleep under a cardboard structure. The event further promotes participants to express what homelessness means to them through the design of their shelter by holding the “Boxed-In Design” contest. This year, World Link students went above and beyond their fundraising goal and brainstormed a design for the cardboard structure which blew the judges away.
The Reggie’s Sleepout event was introduced during the student’s World Link Arrival Orientation over Labor Day weekend. Students were challenged to each raise at least $100 to participate in this event and given ideas on how to reach this goal. The group also took the time to dream up their cardboard structure, “Under the Same Stars”; a large half-sphere to represent the world with enough room underneath for the all the World Link team to comfortably sleep under. They would use blue tissue paper to represent water, green tissue paper to represent land, and cut-out stars, one per country represented in their cluster. Their design idea was to show youth homelessness is a global issue impacting their home countries as well.
On top of fundraising, the group needed to make their dream structure a reality. Having completed multiple structures for Reggie’s Sleepout events in the past, host dad to Anastasiya Kondakova (Ukraine/IA), Roman Rooney-Kozak; took the lead in this massive undertaking. He started by building a mini-structure to display for the students. Once finalized, all participants went to work on putting the pieces of their idea together during two box building parties; utilizing the yard space provided by Greg Fuhrmann; host dad to Giorgi Kakabadze (Georgia/IA). More host family members joined in the fun. Tamari Gachechiladze’s (Georgia/IA) host dad; Nathan Burk, became co-captain of the build; making sure it was sturdy enough for the overnight adventure. Nate Lile worked alongside his exchange sister; Nasiba Nasyrova (Tajikistan/IA), during the building parties and the event day as well.
Building the Structure:
Local Des Moines Coordinators; Kelly Rooney-Kozak and Karen Book, wanted students to see where the money they would raise goes, so they had students tour the Youth Opportunity Center. This facility focuses on helping homeless youth and is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They have full access to a computer lab, TV room, full kitchen, art studio, and laundry facilities. It also has 8 bedrooms and several emergency beds for a place to stay. The money raised during last year’s event is being used to finish the donation center and put in a recording studio. After the tour, students were motivated to raise even more than their set goal.
On the chilly day of Saturday, October 22nd, 2016; the World Link team loaded up the parts of their structure and headed for the Drake University football field, the location of the sleepout event. The group spent all afternoon completing their giant half globe, putting the pieces together and adding in the tissue paper to make their box come to life. Participants from all around the field showed interest in their design and took many photos. The students were beaming with pride.
Around 7:00pm, the “Boxed-In Design” judges came to see the World Link entry. Students Meerim Aidieva (Kyrgyzstan/IA) and Ana Cobzac (Moldova/IA) greeted the judges and told them their story. The two discussed youth homelessness in their countries and how their structure symbolizes the global issue. They told the judges they were nervous in the beginning to ask for donations as they did not have prior fundraising experience. They explained how their first donations set their nerves at ease and motivated them to think outside the box to collect more. Judges learned the ways in which students collected money; some students sold their unique traditional baked goods while others sold tickets to cultural presentations about their home countries. Students went door-to-door in their communities and a few creative students developed social media donation challenges to reach their goal and more.
The two months of hard work planning for this event paid off. The team raised a total of $4,555 in donations; more than any other participating team. Three World Link students contributed over $500 each to the total; an incredible amount for their first experience in fundraising. Their structure received perfect scores from all seven judges and was awarded the top honor of ‘Best in Show’. Along with this award, they were treated to a VIP dinner in the press box in Drake Stadium. The group was also featured in The Des Moines Register and shown on the local news. One of the judges exclaimed, “Game over after this one!”.
The judges were impressed at what this group of foreign exchange students accomplished. They loved the structure and the story behind it. They were stunned by how much these students from across the world cared so much for homeless youth in Iowa.
Kelly and Karen continue to do this event annually because of the lessons their exchange students learn, “It’s teaching them about civics and being a good citizen in the United States. It talks about all this volunteering, fundraising and coming together for a good cause.” Kelly said. She also noted how this is not an experience most of her students could have in their home countries. It is these experiences during their year in the U.S which build World Link foreign exchange students into future leaders.