By Lea Johnson
21st Space Wing Public Affairs staff writer
PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — Colorado Springs is a little bit better thanks to a group of teens from Peterson Air Force Base.
The teens are members of the Keystone Club, a character and leadership program for the Boys & Girls Club of America for members age 14 to 18, at the R.P. Lee Youth Center here.
According to Emily Wanderscheid, one of the teens participating in the program, this year’s national Keystone project is Hope for the Homeless. The teens dubbed their program Holidays for the Homeless, serving their meal just before Christmas, she said.
As part of the project, the Keystone Club has been preparing meals once a month since March to take downtown for area homeless individuals, and it’s been an eye opening experience for the teens.
“The first time I went, I started crying because I couldn’t believe what they were going through. It was the coldest night and they were just covered with a sweatshirt. Some had no gloves. It made me so sad,” Wanderscheid said.
Each month, about 40 homeless adults, children and teens find the Keystone teens at Antlers Park, behind the Antlers Hilton Hotel in downtown Colorado Springs.
On Dec. 22, the teens served about 250 people a dinner of turkey, ham, stuffing, corn, green beans, lemonade, and water.
As part of the Holidays for the Homeless portion of the project, the teens also collected 121 coats from donations on base and delivered them with the meal. In addition to the coat drive, the teens also gave out 213 hygiene packages, 75 scarves, hats and gloves, 12 pairs of shoes, 24 propane bottles, 30 toys and three bikes.
Allan Ramsey, one of the teens participating in the program, said the homeless individuals who come for meals are very appreciative and some share the stories of how they became homeless with the teens. The teens said they are often told drugs or alcohol are the reason people are living on the street.
“It impacts us for later in life. We know not to make those mistakes and we know we can help whoever we want at any time,” Ramsey said.
According to Ramsey, the teens met with Lt. Col. Ann Igl, 21st Force Support Services commander, to tell her about their plans for the project.
“Meeting the teens and having them present their vision for this project made me feel so proud,” Igl said. “Their dedication and organizational skills inspired me and reminded me of the importance that the youth center plays in so many young lives here on Peterson.”
“I personally want to do something that can better not only myself, but other people too so they can have a better future,” said Amir Nickson, another teen helping with the program.
The monthly meals have been such a success with the community that the teens are preparing to make the meals a weekly event.
According to Kelley Wanderscheid, assistant youth center director, the teens have formed a partnership with the First Church of the Nazarene which provides the meat for the meals. The teens then prepare and package the meals at the youth center and deliver them downtown.
Additionally, the coat drive will continue through March. Donation boxes are located in the R.P. Lee Youth Center, building 350, The Exchange, and the chapel.
“We chose to have a coat drive and provide a healthy meal to the homeless as the focus of our campaign, not only because our efforts will help make a difference in our community, but also because this type of activity can involve everyone and show that you can never be too young to give back,” the elder Wanderscheid said.
The teens agreed that many people are surprised at what they’ve been able to do at such a young age.
“My teachers are blown away with what I’m doing for the homeless,” the younger Wanderscheid said.
“We’re teens now. We’re getting ready for adulthood so we need to take responsibility,” Nickson said. “So many people just walk by (the homeless) everyday and don’t care. It’s fortunate there are people like us, so we can help them better their future.”