Valverde Elementary School students are in for a wild experience this holiday season when volunteers from Flyers for Kids take them to see Denver Zoo Lights on December 8.
Created in 2016 by Dan DeBacco, a broker associate with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage’s Devonshire office, and his former University of Dayton classmate Francis McLaughlin, Flyers for Kids is a non-profit organization that raises money and recruits volunteers to give kids from Denver’s inner city schools the opportunity to experience the Denver Zoo at a special time of year.
The event, which has been branded Winter SchoolFari, starts at the school with activities like cookie decorating, reef building, gaming, holiday movie watching, a visit from Santa and dinner for the students. The students then will board a bus to the Denver Zoo Lights, where they will meet their volunteers to help walk and guide them through the park and enjoy all the festivities the zoo has to offer. There are lights, holiday cheer, hot chocolate and, of course, animals!
“Many of the volunteers noted how ‘thankful’ and ‘excited’ the students were to have a friend to walk them through the exhibits, which in turn gave our volunteers the reward and satisfaction for donating their time and efforts,” DeBacco said of last year’s SchoolFari.
When the event is over and all the expenses are paid, Flyers for Kids buys school and medical supplies, warm clothing and food for the school that will be delivered within a week of the event.
“Last year, students came for the event when it was six degrees out with no jacket or boots,” DeBacco said.
Last year, Flyers for Kids raised more than $5,000 in just three months to take more than 40 children, 70 volunteers and 15 staff members to the event. This year, the organization’s goal is to raise more than $20,000 so it can take at least three times as many kids to the event.
“Ultimately, we want to take over the zoo for a night,” DeBacco said. “Our goal is to have all inner-city DPS schools come in and have this experience. Any support we can get from the zoo would be amazingly helpful.”
DeBacco and McLaughlin modeled Winter SchoolFari after a similar event — Christmas on Campus — they experienced while attending the University of Dayton in Ohio. They worked diligently to tap into their sphere of influence, local businesses and other interested donors to acquire the needed funds. As a result of their success, they decided to make their cause an official nonprofit and recruited Kyle Cantrell, Megan Wayne, Mary Gates Puhr, Scott Mayer, and Nick Adorni to join in the efforts.
“We really wanted to use Christmas on Campus as a role model, given how many folks we have out here,” said DeBacco, referring to the 1,200 University of Dayton alumni and countless Ohioans residing in metro Denver. “There wasn’t anything like that out here. There are so many of us from the same area, and we wanted to create a platform that would give everyone the opportunity to give back to what is now their new home.”
If you are interested in volunteering, donating, or looking to learn a bit more information please visit www.flyersforkids.org.