Special-needs students at Holmes Middle School are finding it easier to learn in a remodeled classroom, courtesy of a team of businesses and volunteers. And teachers at Monterey Elementary School are enjoying a bright, new lounge where they can relax and recharge.
These projects came about through a nonprofit, COSILoveYou (pronounced “Cause I Love You”), which connects businesses, churches and other nonprofits to work together on solving community challenges.
“We’re building this whole thing around the idea of collaboration,” said Stu Davis, executive director of COSILoveYou and its newest initiative, COSILoveSchools.
“The churches have a set of resources at their disposal, as do the businesses, as do the local nonprofits, but the resources available to each are different,” he said. “By bringing their resources together at a specific location, it actually takes a lot less effort than one organization trying to take on all of the needs.”
Everyone benefits from that kind of collaboration, Davis said.
“A business has a story to tell about what they’re doing to support the community,” he said. “A church is getting their people outside the walls and serving in the city. And a local nonprofit is able to fulfill their mission even more, because they’ve got the kind of support they’re always looking for.”
COSILoveYou turns every dollar it receives in donations into $3 worth of service.
“That’s been a really good story for us to be able to tell,” Davis said.
Davis met with Holmes Principal Anthony Karr and Stephanie Carlson, chair of the Holmes Parent Accountability Committee, earlier this year to talk about what COSILoveSchools could do to help out at Holmes, in Colorado Springs School District 11.
“That was exactly the kind of partnership that I had been envisioning to tackle the issues that our students are facing,” Karr said.
They decided to remodel the special education classroom, which was set up as a traditional classroom in the 50-year-old building.
“This classroom stuck out for a number of reasons,” Karr said. “It houses the students that have experienced trauma, that have experienced issues associated with poverty and homelessness, and we weren’t providing for their needs in the previous environment.”
Davis recruited Andrea Slattery, business development director at Nunn Construction, to pull together a team that would donate materials and provide labor.
Drawing upon their contacts, she and Davis enlisted FBT Architects to redesign the space.
“It was basically a finish upgrade,” Slattery said. The plan called for streamlining the room, getting rid of garish colors on the walls, installing new flooring and lighting and providing new furniture, to transform the dingy space into something more friendly and inviting.
During the holiday break, Slattery’s team from Nunn Construction got to work demolishing old cabinets, pulling up soiled carpeting and prepping the walls.
Blazer Electric Supply Co. donated lighting materials and equipment, and electricians from Gonzales Electric installed the dimmable LED system that replaced the old fluorescent fixtures.
United Flooring provided and installed durable flooring materials with a wood look.
Volunteers from International Anglican Church came in after the demolition and repainted the walls.
OfficeScapes School donated new, modern furniture including desks, chairs and modular bolsters that can be arranged in many different configurations.
The crew had just two weeks to complete the renovation, and managed to get it done the day before the students returned to school on Jan. 8. But it was touch-and-go at one point.
“There were environmental hazards that were detected, and we were having to get contractors in over Christmas to clean up and maintain the schedule,” Slattery said. “We were looking at Plan B options to put them somewhere else, but it all came through because everyone pulled in a lot of good holiday cheer.”
The finishing touches, including whiteboards Slattery brought over from her office, were completed the afternoon of Jan. 7.
“The kids having a safer, more physically and emotionally welcoming environment was huge, and they have been responding to that,” Karr said. “The teachers and our staff are exceptionally grateful and impressed with everything.”
A BREAK FOR TEACHERS
Holmes is one of six schools partnering with COSILoveSchools.
Another major project was refurbishing the teachers lounge at Harrison School District 2’s Monterey Elementary School.
Missy MacGuire, associate broker with The Platinum Group, heads the team that works with Monterey.
“I believe COSILoveYou is absolutely correct that, as our schools go, so goes the community,” MacGuire said.
“Monterey has an incredible mission in serving their community, and the teachers are so dedicated, and the staff there is incredible,” she said. “They really love on those kids and their community, and so we felt it was a great place to support.”
The teachers lounge remodel was the first project MacGuire chose.
The lounge hadn’t been redone since the early 1990s and, with bright blue and green paint and old furnishings, it wasn’t a comfortable, relaxing retreat for teachers and staff.
“We painted all the walls and the cabinets in a more neutral, soothing color palette,” MacGuire said. “We replaced the countertops with granite, replaced all the furniture and appliances, made a fabulous coffee bar and just made it an inviting, welcoming place for the teachers and staff to go to rejuvenate.”
They provided unique touches such as an affirmation jar.
“If they’re having a tough day, they can go in and pull out an affirmation and hopefully get some encouragement that what they’re doing every day is worthwhile and makes a difference,” she said.
Besides The Platinum Group, the team included Vantage Homes, Saddletree Homes, Trout Painting, Green Acres Granite and Unified Title.
“To be able to reach out to the businesses that we do business with, it was just a huge ripple effect,” MacGuire said.
When the project was revealed the day after the winter break, “the teachers were so excited and appreciative and really felt supported in what they do,” MacGuire said.
MAKING A DIFFERENCE
Davis said he is especially excited about the school initiative.
“There’s lot of research out there that points to key things that happen with kids when they’re in elementary and middle school,” he said. “Whether it’s the at-risk youth, teen suicide, underage gang involvement, substance abuse and [physical and emotional] abuse, and for this issue of family homelessness, if we can get in front of that by giving kids a positive outlook at school and supporting teachers who often feel overwhelmed, we feel like we’re able to get to a lot of problems.”
Davis, former director of mobilization at Springs Rescue Mission and currently director of the Westside Community Center, officially launched COSILoveYou two years ago after several years of groundwork.
In conversations with Mayor John Suthers and other community leaders, local pastors and businesspeople about the community’s greatest needs, “we started drilling down into two things — family homelessness and at-risk youth,” Davis said. “They all come to the surface at local schools every day.”
COSILoveYou also works with community organizations such as Family Life Services and Greccio Housing on homelessness issues.
Each year in the fall, the organization brings together local organizations, businesses and churches for CityServe, an intensive day of volunteer work throughout the community.
Last year’s CityServe day took place on Oct. 3 and brought together 75 local organizations and businesses and 4,100 volunteers, who helped out at 186 locations.
At a value of around $25 an hour, that volunteer service was worth about $310,000, Davis said.
Davis said he is looking for more business partners to get involved. More information and links can be found at cosiloveyou.com.
There’s “no telling” what a difference projects like these can make in the community, Karr said.
“It can mean little things that add up over time,” he said, “and it can be as big as something like [the Holmes classroom], where it was immediately impactful for the students.”