Eleven freshmen from The Out-of-Door Academy sat in the library Feb. 5 with the lights off and their eyes closed.
They were told to imagine themselves in a big city sitting on a sidewalk, feeling the pangs of hunger from not eating for two days.
They were told to imagine someone noticing them, and rather than providing a helping hand, the person tells them to get a job.
Students imagined themselves as dirty, disgusted and defeated as they continued to try to hold a job but kept getting fired because they didn’t have clean clothes and a place to call home every night.
Then they imagined someone approaching them on that sidewalk and offering a blanket with a handwritten letter expressing a message of hope.
After opening their eyes, the freshmen were asked to reflect on what they imagined before trying to understand how thousands of homeless people throughout the country feel the same way every day.
Students then wrote their own letters of hope to tie onto purple blankets as part of a project for the nonprofit Blankets of Hope, which partners with schools to raise money to provide blankets to people who are homeless.
The service project was an opportunity for students in pre-K through 12th grade to bring kindness, empathy and inspiration to people in Sarasota experiencing homelessness.
“It’s cool being able to see yourself in other people’s shoes and be more aware of what’s happening around you,” freshman Amy Kwakya-Amoah said.
Students at the Uihlein Campus in Lakewood Ranch donated $5 to earn a Dress Down Day, which is a day that students don’t have to abide by the school’s dress code.
Melinda Lloyd, one of the coordinators of the project at the school, said both ODA’s campuses donated 875 blankets to Resurrection House, the Salvation Army and the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office homeless outreach team.
Freshman Joseph Clarke was grateful to participate in the project.
“It feels great because I know, especially in larger cities, people go unnoticed,” Clarke said. “It feels good to help them.”
Freshman Christopher Nightingale hopes his letter makes the blanket recipient feel loved and gives the recipient hope that life will get better.