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RHS students camp out out for a good cause

For one night last week 25 Rosemount High School students got at least small taste of what it's like to be homeless.

The students, led by a small, second-year student organization called Humans for Humanity, took part in the Box City Vigil Friday night at the state capitol in St. Paul. As rain fell and winds howled they huddled in a kind of tent city built of cardboard, tarps and duct tape.

"You don't really realize how non-durable cardboard is until it's soggy and cold," said Mar Sanchez, one of the students who led the RHS effort.

The students, who drove to the capitol in a caravan of cars stuffed with old boxes, spent more than an hour making their temporary housing as architecturally sound as possible. But the night's winds still shook the boxes and rattled the tarp. Nobody slept too soundly.

"It was a reality check for me, just the rain and the coldness," said Nick Pranke, a senior at RHS. "It's just amazing what homeless people have to go through."

Think of it as spending a night in another person's refrigerator box.

For the students, the event was a chance to take on an issue much closer to home than some of the international concerns they often deal with.

Humans for Humanity students gave up lunch for two weeks to sign up their classmates for the event, which is put on each year by student groups from Bloomington Kennedy and Bloomington Jefferson high schools. The response wasn't always positive. They watched at times as students took registration information, then threw it away just a few steps down the hallway. But the students are happy with the participation they got. The group, which usually draws six or seven people to its Friday morning meetings, had 26 make the trip to St. Paul.

Rosemount was the only other high school that had students show up Friday. There were about 250 students altogether.

The night included music from four Bloomington bands, a performance from a spoken word artist who was homeless for a time and a speech from an Iraq veteran. Legislators spoke, as did a Bloomington Kennedy coach who debunked the myths that homeless people have done something wrong to end up on the street.

"It was empowering," student Katie Wallin said.

Other activities

Believe it or not, learning about homelessness is actually a cheerier topic than a lot of what Humans for Humanity talks about. Then-seniors Naomi Ko and Bethany Mann started the group last year because they didn't feel RHS students were aware enough about world events.

This year the group has held events to talk about child soldiers in Uganda and genocides in Burma and Darfur. Humans for Humanity students have volunteered at People Serving People in Minneapolis and Feed My Starving Children in Eagan.