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Rice Memorial High School students step up to alleviate hunger, homelessness

Caitlyn Marcoux (left to right), Katrina Moynihan and Maya Farrell, students at Rice Memorial High School in South Burlington, participate in a COTS Walk fundraiser. Caitlyn Marcoux (left to right), Katrina Moynihan and Maya Farrell, students at Rice Memorial High School in South Burlington, participate in a COTS Walk fundraiser.
SOUTH BURLINGTON--Students at Rice Memorial High School in South Burlington are stepping up to alleviate hunger and homelessness.
As a part of the freshmen history curriculum, Sarah Smith Conroy, chairperson of and a teacher in the History Department, has integrated two required community service projects each year, and each year these students raise significant amounts of money for those in the community who are in need.
Freshmen walk to raise awareness and money around issues of hunger relief both globally and locally as they participate in the annual CROP Hunger Walk in October. Likewise, the entire freshmen class raises money and awareness around the issue of homelessness in Vermont by participating in the annual COTSWalk in May.
Conroy’s relationship with COTS began as early as 1985 and has evolved into a strong bond over the past 30 years. “Every student that I have taught, whether at Champlain College [in Burlington] or Rice Memorial High School, has been required to participate at the COTS Walk in some capacity as a part of my curriculum,” she said.
This is her 17th year at Rice where all freshmen must earn eight hours of service by doing both walks, sophomores earn 20 hours, juniors earn 25 hours and seniors must log 30 hours of service.
As a result, many upper class students also join the freshmen for the fall and spring events. “The result has been overwhelmingly positive; the community of Rice annually represents the largest single group at each of these walks and has been annually presented with awards and personal thanks from each agency,” Conroy said, noting that for the past nine consecutive years, the students at Rice have raised more money for the Crop Walk than any other high school in the continental United States and more than any other school in Vermont for the COTS Walk.
“Students get involved initially because they are required to as a Rice freshmen. This is the right thing to do and a young adult often needs to be introduced to the world of service and shown that they can make a difference in the lives of others,” Conroy said.
Some students stay involved with COTS by walking, others help with organizing future walks, and others serve as crossing guards during the walk itself. Once students are 18, many volunteer at COTS helping with any important steps that people take to get out of the cycle of homelessness. 
“This organization is important because it serves the many levels of homelessness, whether it is shelter, job training, interview skills or supplies for children learning to make their way. Working with COTS provides students with perspective and with a real sense of their ability to care for others,” Conroy said. “My efforts are to help those in our community who are less fortunate and to put a human, real face to these realities. Every person has a story and there are many lessons to be learned in listening to, helping with and supporting the lives of others.”
Rice senior Olivia Parker has participated in the walk and donated money to the effort. “Activism on the local level is vital because it promotes awareness about problems that are happening in our own community and how we can make a difference,” she said. “In terms of COTS, many people living in Vermont are unaware of the homelessness problem and its extent, and COTS fosters both awareness and activism.”
Her involvement humbles her. “Through participating and/or donating, I feel initially proud that I can do something to help, and it gives me another perspective on how fortunate I am,” she said. “Taking time to be aware of those around you and giving what you are able is a vital practice for all people to learn.”
Last modified onWednesday, 23 November 2016 11:42
Cori Fugere Urban

Cori Urban is a longtime writer for the communications efforts of the Diocese of Burlington and former editor of The Vermont Catholic Tribune.

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