Weekly Feature

2018-01-31 / Front Page

Annual CHS sleepout sets sights on $500,000 mark


Each February, students from Clarence High School set up an impromptu shantytown outside the warm halls of their school in a simulated showing of what it’s like to sleep on the frigid streets of Western New York.

While the annual “sleepout” provides an opportunity to raise money for some of the most active charities in the area, its real impact lies in the profundity of its message, that life in Clarence is often removed from the tribulation of more poverty-stricken cities and towns.

This year, however, the fundraising total itself will play more of a central, celebratory role as event organizers hope to pass $500,000 in total donations through the nearly three decades that the fundraiser has been in existence.

Last year, the event raked in more than $24,000, bringing the 27-year total to $484,325. In 2018, Kevin Starr, Student Council adviser at Clarence High School, hopes that when the books are closed and the checks are counted, the event will be able to boast that it is halfway to collecting $1 million.

For Starr, the sleepout is a family affair that began about 30 years ago when his father Jerry, an English and drama teacher at Kenmore West High School, initiated a fundraiser to increase awareness about the plight of the homeless.

At Kenmore West, it was the faculty who participated in the sleepout. However, when Starr became the Student Council adviser at CHS, he approached the school’s principal to inquire about adding students as participants.

The first year, the event drew 46 students. It quickly grew in popularity, which Starr claims in its best years attracted nearly 200. On Friday, Starr expects roughly 75 young people to participate, though he’s careful to caution them beforehand about the night’s rigors.

“I would say a lot of kids probably don’t think about what they’re getting themselves into,” he says with a laugh. “By the time they’re done doing it, I think they’ve got more of an awareness than they had before.”

The event is always held the first Friday in February in the parking lot at Clarence High School, and every cent raised is divided among local groups that include Friends of Night People, Community Action Information Center, Gospel Expansion Foundation, Little Portion Friary, Habitat for Humanity, Family Promise of WNY, Hearts for the Homeless, Gerard Place, Buffalo City Mission, Gateway Longview Foundation, Clarence Community Food Pantry and Meals on Wheels Foundation of WNY.

Student Council President Allison Flaglor will be participating in the sleepout for the first time this weekend.

“This is so different from all the other community service opportunities where you’re raising money but you don’t really understand what you’re donating to,” she said. “Sitting outside in the cold and feeling how difficult it is to fall asleep when you’re freezing helps us students to understand how tough a life some people live.”

Flaglor admits she has been trying to mentally prepare herself for the extreme temperatures and the challenge of staying out until 4 a.m. on Saturday morning, when forecasts call for a high of 16 degrees and a low of 10.

Starr believes that the sleepout is distinctive in that it provides students with the opportunity to effect immediate change.

“I think sometimes with community service, the results are more conceptual. Here, the results are real,” he said. “The kids know that someone isn’t going to be as hungry or as cold because they [students] chose to spend the night outside.”

Once the money comes is counted on the night of the event, the proceeds are divided among the various charities, and checks are sent to them.

Donations can be dropped off the night of the sleepout or may be mailed to Clarence Senior High School Student Council, 9625 Main St., Clarence, NY 14031. Checks can be made payable to “CHS Student Council – Sleepout.”

Students are free to warm up inside the high school at any point throughout the night, which Starr says makes the sleepout an easy target for critics who many not understand the event’s figurative nature.

“We do get criticized from time to time for the fact that the kids can come inside when it gets too cold, that there’s food for them. This is just a symbolic gesture,” he said. “This is a well-to-do community, and the kids are aware that not everyone lives like they do. I think this event gives them the chance to make a connection with the world beyond Transit Road.”

When the numbers are tallied for this year’s total fundraising number, Starr fully believes they will surpass the magical $500,000 mark. For Starr, seeing that number for the first time will represent three decades of invaluable community service as well as an enduring father-son legacy.

“It’s going to be one of the most meaningful moments of my whole life,” he said. “Whoever the kid is who turns in that dollar that gets us over that number had better be ready for an awkward moment.

“Every kid who has ever been a part of this is part of that half-a-million-dollar amount,” he added. “I think there’s a real sense of community in that.”

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