Thriving the holiday season
Jibreel Duruisseau, Kamyia Lashla, Jase Shoffner, Rahma Al Obaidi, Mariah Ramirez, Jalena Flores, Malaijah Thomas,
Pukigan Stewart, Richard Safoh, & KC Wenzel | CONTRIBUTORS
In 1929, the city of Aurora dawned the nickname “Gateway of the Rockies” due to being the first major populous in the Denver metro network that one would arrive at when heading westward from the plains.
In 1973, a high school was erected in the spirit of the city’s moniker. Gateway High School has been a pillar in the community ever since its inception.
In 2014, then principal Dackri Davis generated a concept in an attempt to maximize community impact that would be called “Shopping with an Oly”. Oly being short for the school’s mascot- the Olympian.
The concept is beautiful in its simplicity: local elementary school family liaisons would identify students who could benefit from a lift during the holiday season. Pods of four Gateway high school students would be challenged to raise $25 each that would total $100 to support each nominee’s holiday season wish list. That would lead to a shopping spree at the local Target Super store with $60 encouraged to be used for the student’s family and $40 to use for themselves. Following the harvest, everyone heads back to the Holiday Jamboree, where Gateway has been converted into a winter wonderland complete with Mr. & Mrs. Claus, the Grinch, a spectacle of decorations, and activities ranging from gift wrapping, winter cookie decorating and much more.
As the program matured, 90+ participating students would also go home with groceries for their family as well as assured belonging in the holiday zeal.
This experience is a mighty undertaking that gathers community volunteers, the student base, and faculty to challenge their network to become one of the strongest community service forces in the entire city.
In this A Story exclusive we tap into this environment through the eyes of both ‘Shoppers’ and ‘Olys’; Jibreel Duruisseau, Kamyia Lashla, Jase Shoffner, Rahma Al Obaidi, Mariah Ramirez, Jalena Flores, Malaijah Thomas, Pukigan Stewart, Richard Safoh, & KC Wenzel to try to get a glimpse into the snow globe known as “Shopping with an Oly”.
Century Elementary School
Jibreel Duruisseau – 5th Grade
A color changing hover board that connects to my phone, to work on my literacy I got books; Granny and Dragon Swirl, Games; Fortnite, and Madeline, Converse shoes, and remote-control cars.
For my family
I got my niece a huge Barbie doll, make up for my sister, and a Samsung phone for my mom.
I moved to Aurora from Oregon. My favorite moment was hearing The Grinch singing: “Mr. Grinch, he’s a mean one.”
Kamyia Lashla – 4th Grade
I got a hoverboard and slime.
For my family
I got my sister a pair of shoes.
I moved to Aurora from Mississippi. My favorite moment of ‘Shopping with an Oly’ was when we got Starbucks.
Jase Shoffner – 5th Grade
I got a Eat sleep Fornite repeat shirt and walkie talkies.
For my family
I got the Game, Just Dance, stuffed Mario and PJ mask toys for my sister, and a Crock Pot for my mom.
I’ve lived in Aurora my entire life!
Rahma Al Obaidi – 2nd
I got a Lol doll.
For my family
I got my mom make-up, my sister a shirt, and my brother slime.
I came to Aurora from Iraq.
Lansing Elementary School
Mariah Ramirez – 2nd Grade
I got stickers, unicorn makeup, and slime.
For my family
I got decorations, a Jojo Siwa bow for my sister, boots for my mom, and a watch for my grand pa.
My favorite activity was decorating cookies with m&ms and everything and I loved that my family got to go with me.
Jalena Flores – 5th Grade
I got a rainbow unicorn Poopsie.
For my family
I got my sister toys from the movie Frozen, Hotwheels and trucks for my brother, nail polish for my mom, and a coffee mug with the letter ‘J’ on it for my Dad.
I came to Aurora from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania in 3rd grade, I like Aurora because there is a lot more stuff to do. I think ‘Shopping with an Oly’ is important because some people don’t get gifts because they don’t have that much money. I’m thankful for my Olys; Rash, Aya, Kim, and Marion for making things fun.
Malaijah Thomas – 4th Grade
I got a Poopsie and an LOL, A Poopsie is a unicorn that makes slime.
For my family
I got my cousin Quintin fuzzy slippers, little cars for my cousin Dai’zon, for my sister I got a sweater and Grandma action figure, it’s a toy that you have to bring food and her teeth pop out, and I got my brother a jacket.
My younger cousin Quintin participated in ‘Shopping with an OLY’ last year so when I was selected this year, I was excited! My favorite moment was getting to wrap the gifts.
Jewell Elementary School
Pukigan Stewart – 4th Grade
Let me tell you the story of my name…What happed was my dad was playing final fantasy or something and he named one of his characters…I don’t remember but it had a Keegan in it and then he decided when making a name for me and added “Puk”.
In my life I have moved a lot. We came from Idaho to Colorado Springs then to Aurora. This is my 1st year at Jewell. In Idaho, I got bullied a lot in kindergarten. That’s one of the reasons we moved to the springs. And in school there, people called me fat pig and stuff. I didn’t like that school at all., there was a lot more bullying. Now that I’m here at Jewell, things are much better. Also, in Aurora, they have more Pokémon cards than in the springs. They don’t have Blastoise or anything down there. Here they got Blastoise and elite trainer boxes!
I got a Playdough kitchen.
For my family
I got my dad a Christmas cat shirt that meows, 2 glittery purple nail polishes for my mom, and a Nuggets shirt.
I want to tell Richard my Oly Thank you for taking me it was really fun. I’ve never had this happen to me before.
One day I’d like to be like Richard and help kids in a program like this. I feel like every kid should know what it’s like to get gifts during Christmas time because some of them might be poor and stuff. Some of them might live in a hotel like me and some of their parents don’t have money.
Richard Safoh – Senior
Ever since I was little, my sisters would take food to the homeless and I’d see how much happiness that brought them. And that also brought me joy. There is something inside of me that just likes to make other people happy and helping out the less fortunate.
My favorite moment was when we reached the $100 limit on one toy a kid wanted real bad. (Pukigan). He wanted another gift card and our group members put up the money for him. And he was so happy that an opportunity like this came his way and that’s why I love shopping with an Oly.
I think it’s important for kids like Pukigan to feel the joy of the holiday. He should be able to experience the social norm of receiving gifts for Christmas… I think everybody should know such joy. If I could tell Pukigan one thing, I would let him know that he is the jolliest kid I have ever met and to keep that YouTube channel dream going.
KC Wenzel – Senior
My sister was one of the first people who participated when Dr. Davis was the principal. My belief was that it started as a reason to come to Gateway. Dr. Davis felt like if we outreached to schools, that students would want to be a part of something special. It made Gateway’s community morale a lot better. My little brother’s best friend participated and felt the surreal nature of the environment- you get to shop with high schoolers who are 5 to 7 years older and you feel that connection. Then they get here and they are like I want to have that connection with someone and it just feels really good.
I have done it all four years
The kids see toys and they are just like I want all of them and so when you walk down the aisle and they’re like: “Oh, I really want Paw Patrol…”. Then you go down another aisle and they are like “How to Train Your Dragon” and they are like “Oh, I love that one more.”
I feel ‘Shopping with an Oly’ is just really strong. We have parents coming in as volunteers in their 2nd years with ‘Shopping with an Oly’. Having students coming in knowing the program’s impact for families and communities is really great. It just feels great to help out. Having the boost from the thankfulness from the families feels great.
It gets bigger each year.
My freshman year we only needed 60 or so teams. This year we needed 90.
All these families need support
There are a couple of instances on shopping lists when it’s not just toys. It’s like your sister needs a new pair of socks, I need some jeans and a jacket to keep warm. It really hurts to see sometimes because personally when I go home, I don’t think about it but there are kids out there who are struggling to just stay warm.
When kids come in, we give the supplies for 1 or 2 meals and we know that it’s never enough, but it’s still something.
I had a kid named DJ this year. Kids are shy at first, but by the time you’re shopping, you’re like friends.
My favorite part is at the very end of the day. It sounds kind of sad, but last year the kid I had fell asleep when I was carrying him and when it was time to leave, he didn’t want to go. With DJ this year, he was like “He’s my best friend, can he come over?” It’s the best part and the part that hurts the most because you just spent the entire day with this kid. You learn about them; they learn about you and you become really close and then it’s like look what I did for this family. You feel really great about it and at the same time you’re watching this kid walk away and you’re just like wow that’s really crazy I might not ever see that kid again. And it’s like I’ve grown such a bond with them. I know their story and their family’s story and I want to be there for them more.