April 29, 2010
By Stephanie Choate
This weekend, Champlain Valley Union High School students will join hundreds of other Vermonters in the annual COTS Walk in Burlington.
People stream down Church Street during the 2009 COTS Walk. This year’s walk is set for May 2.
Approximately 30 CVU teachers and students — many of them in the school’s Key Club, a community service group — will take part in the May 2 event that benefits Burlington’s Committee on Temporary Shelter.
“I am pretty happy with how much interest the CVU community has shown toward this event,” CVU sophomore Claire Colwell, who is organizing the school’s team, wrote in an e-mail.
Colwell said the CVU group hopes to raise $1,000.
“COTS serves people with whom we can all relate,” Colwell wrote. “In these hard times, everyone can connect to (the) COTS mission …. This walk is also a great way to spend time with friends and get involved in the community.”
CVU is one of nearly 20 high schools and colleges in the state with teams registered for the walk.
“It’s just heartwarming and amazing to see so many teens participate,” said Lesli Blount, COTS Board chairwoman. “Every year they participate in great numbers.”
The three-mile route follows the course a homeless person might take to get shelter and services.
“This is the one day of the year when we open up our shelters to the public,” said Mary Beth Jensen, COTS special events coordinator. “Otherwise, people would never get to see the inside of a shelter and what it really is like.”
Walkers set individual fund-raising goals for themselves and collect pledges from friends, family, coworkers or whomever they can find.
Organizers hope to raise $175,000 during the walk. Since event sponsors cover the costs, all of the money raised goes directly to shelters and services, Jensen said. She said the event is “huge,” one of the organization’s two biggest events of the year.
“It brings in enough money to run the shelters for quite some time,” she said. “It’s really vital.”
Blount said COTS has seen an “all-time high demand for services” in the past year or so. The group had to open an overflow center, which Blount said is “already kind of bursting at the seams.”
Some people have lost their jobs and others have had their hours cut as businesses try to weather the tough economic climate.
Taking part in the walk is a fun and easy way to lend a hand, Jensen said.
“It’s a great way for people of all ages to get involved in their community and learn about homelessness in Burlington and see for themselves what is being done and how … they can help and get involved,” Jensen said.
Jensen said people take part in the COTS Walk because it’s a good time, but it also raises awareness about homelessness.
“People get to see things they don’t typically get to see,” Jensen said. “It’s a great way to have a conversation about homelessness and poverty and social justice in general.”
The COTS Walk is scheduled for May 2 and starts at Battery Park in Burlington. Check-in is at 1:30 p.m. Visit cotsonline.org for more information.