During the month of December, a child might mistake the Associated Student Body (ASB) meeting room at Ánimo Leadership Charter High School with Santa’s workshop. Inside the meeting space, you’ll meet a sea of smiling faces, some arranged in neat lines organizing toys, clothes, and shoes, while others enclose gifts in bright wrapping paper and adorn them with bows. You won’t find elves or reindeer in this room, but you will see several high school students eager to spread joy and love.
Better to Give than to Receive
Winter marks a beloved tradition at Ánimo Leadership -- the Giving Tree. Each holiday season, the school’s ASB receives a list of families in need whose children attend Moffett Elementary School, across the street from Ánimo Leadership. Each classroom is given the first name of one family member, then students collect gifts based on each individual’s wish list.
This year students are collecting gifts for 26 people from six different families. “We get gifts for everyone, from kids to the parents, because we know that those are the people who are often the most stressed during the holiday season,” exclaimed Catherine Stine, Ánimo Leadership English teacher and ASB advisor. “The parents need some extra love and attention too.”
This year’s Giving Tree was especially important for Kiara Lira, ASB president and a senior at Ánimo Leadership. In the fall, while applying to colleges, she was coordinating with school leaders at Moffett, connecting with families, and creating a project plan to successfully pull off this year’s event. “This is my fourth year participating in the Giving Tree. In my first year at Leadership I was freshman class president and saw the process for the first time,” recalled Lira. “Planning it this year was bittersweet. I've seen it grow so much and I'm graduating this year so it's sad that I won't be able to do this again.” Students like Lira are especially passionate about this initiative because it is student led. Under the leadership of the ASB president, students determine the dates, they work with the families, actively track gifts, and coordinate the culminating event.
Students’ ownership of the Giving Tree serves as an opportunity for them to apply their leadership skills outside of the classroom. Although logistically, it can be challenging, the experience builds character and helps these young leaders develop a greater level of empathy. “I want to give back because I know what it’s like to not receive gifts during the holidays,” said Isaac Villasenor, a senior at Ánimo Leadership. “I’m looking forward to seeing the kids’ reactions. I get excited just thinking about it.”
A Family Tradition
Over the years, the Giving Tree has grown and deepened Ánimo Leadership’s relationship with the Lennox community. Although giving is a large component of the event, human connection and spreading love and kindness are the most important parts-- It’s why the culminating event is so special. In December, ASB welcomes Moffett families to the campus to a holiday meal together, during which participants complete a series of arts and crafts, games, and enjoy live entertainment. At the end of the night, the group makes a very important video call to Santa Claus. Each year, the man in red is so moved by what he sees that he gives everyone permission to open one gift together before the holidays.
This part of the evening always gets Ánimo Leadership senior and ASB vice president, Lizbeth Brisceno choked up. “My freshman year I was paired with a little girl and we gave her several small items and the big gift was this pack of dolls. At the end of the night after hearing from Santa she opened the gift with the dolls and I’ll never forget the look on her face. She was just so happy, and I saw her parents start to cry and it made me feel so accomplished,” said Brisceno.
Ánimo Leadership students recognized a need in their community and responded with empathy and love. Their combined efforts positively impacted families during a time of the year that can be especially challenging. “I think the community sees that our school is shaping strong leaders that give back,” reflected Stine. At Green Dot, leadership and service are ingrained in the culture of our schools; throughout the year our students create opportunities that empower and inspire their school communities to become agents of change. “It’s always so rewarding when parents come up to me with tears in their eyes and say ‘I wish more students were like your Leadership kids.’ And I couldn't agree more.”