As a freshman at at George Washington High School, DSF Scholar Kai Suematsu woke up every day at 6:00 a.m. to head to the gym. His goal was to stay in shape by practicing basketball in the early mornings. However, Kai quickly learned that his routine would turn into a different kind of exercise—an exercise in kindness.
On his daily commute to the gym, Kai started to see a familiar face. Each morning, he passed a man holding a sign with a plea for help.
“One day I had the urge to ask him what he might need,” Kai reflects. “I had a few extra dollars, and offered to buy him breakfast. He did not immediately accept my offer, but after a while, it became routine for me to do so. I learned that his name was Nick, and we developed a friendship through these moments.”
Suddenly, Nick stopped appearing on the street with his sign. A few weeks went by, and Kai wondered where he had gone.
“Out of the blue, I ran into Nick again,” Kai shares with a smile. “I learned that he had secured a job as a manager at a restaurant. He thanked me for supporting him in getting back on his feet. In that moment, I knew what fulfillment feels like and learned what it really means to help a person.”
After that day, Kai began to think bigger. He asked himself, how many more people can I help?
Convening a Club of Problem Solvers
His answer to this question was the Denver Club of Humanities. As a partnership between a handful of friends, including Jamal Giornazi and Samariddin (Sam) Meliboev, the Denver Club of Humanities was created to reduce food waste from restaurants and stores by delivering that food to those who need it most. What started as a hobby for a handful of friends quickly flourished into a 501(c)3 nonprofit powered by over 60 student volunteers.
“We were a group of students who felt compelled to solve problems,” says Jamal.
“We developed relationships with people around the city who were also working on food insecurity,” Kai explains. “By senior year, we had created a food pantry at our school, and had organized several food drives all on our own. We learned what it means to be a community.”
Heading into their senior year, with Denver Club of Humanities projects in full swing and college on the horizon, Kai, Jamal, and Sam began to prepare for their next steps.
“Our experiences through the club showed us that we are up next to enter the workforce,” shares Kai. “We are the next generation to carry the load of helping the community.”
Dreaming Bigger: College
Though their projects through the Denver Club of Humanities had seen wild success, the three friends dreamed of helping even more people. A college education, they decided, would help them achieve that goal.
To prepare for college, they turned to the DSF Future Center at George Washington High School, where they found a guide in their DSF College Advisor, Ms. Rainey. Utilizing her help with their college applications, scholarship applications and interview preparation, as well as the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), the three friends unanimously chose the University of Colorado Boulder as their top choice. But the financial burden of college still loomed ahead.
“DSF provides a foundation of support that assists in removing stressors and roadblocks for students,” explains Ms. Rainey, DSF Lead College Advisor. “If students do not have to worry about how they will get to college and how they will pay for their education, they are able to focus on their studies and truly maximize their impact in the community.”
With encouragement from Ms. Rainey, Kai, Jamal, and Sam applied for the DSF Scholarship to help bridge the financial gap that stood between them and college. Embarking on their next chapter at the University of Colorado Boulder as DSF Scholars, the three friends say that the DSF Scholarship plays a pivotal role in allowing them to continue giving back to the community.
“The opportunity to cover part of my tuition with the DSF Scholarship is overwhelming,” shares Sam. “Having emigrated from Uzbekistan in 2014, I can pursue a college education knowing that my family will not face financial hardship.”
Jamal adds, “I rely on the DSF Scholarship to make college less expensive for me and my family. It allows me to spend more time working on community service projects.”
Encouraging, Empowering, Equipping
Upon graduating from high school, Kai, Jamal, and Sam left the Denver Club of Humanities in the hands of new student leadership. They knew that college would allow them to tackle even bigger ideas to give back to the community. Indeed, they now aim to create exponentially greater impact through their latest project.
The name of their project, Kobu, means encouragement in Japanese. Rooted in the idea of encouraging others to give back, Kobu aims to provide resources for students to pursue their own social change ventures.
Kobu’s first project was a food drive which took place November 13 – 16. Kai, Jamal, and Sam partnered with a friend who came to them with the idea of a food drive. Having food drive experience from Denver Club of Humanities, Kai took the lead on recruiting volunteers, coordinating drop off and pick up logistics, engaging the Boulder community outside of campus, and securing media coverage.
“The best test of leadership is the ability to motivate others,” says Kai. “This project challenged us to troubleshoot many logistical issues. Ultimately we are very proud of what we were able to accomplish.”
Compelled to Give Back
Like many DSF Scholars, Kai, Jamal, and Sam share a desire to give back to the community. Part of this desire stems from their hope to repay the community for supporting their college goals through DSF.
“People who invest in DSF are investing in the people who will solve problems—DSF Scholars,” explains Jamal. Sam agrees, adding, “through DSF, there is a group of people who are invested in me as I work to meet my educational goals. Like many DSF Scholars, I am motivated to master ethical integrity while serving my community.”
“When I think of a DSF Scholar, I think of someone who has not taken an easy path in life,” reflects Kai. “Often, we have not been gifted many opportunities. When we do receive gifts like the DSF Scholarship, we aim to give back in the same way. My mom always told me, ‘whenever you are in a position to give back with time, money, or other resources, it is your responsibility to do so.’”
Ms. Rainey, a DSF Alumna, agrees. In reflecting on their legacy at George Washington High School, Ms. Rainey says she knows the future is bright with leaders like Kai, Jamal, and Sam in the community.
“Speaking as a DSF Alumna and current DSF Lead College Advisor, we realize that it takes a community of people working together to bring about lasting, positive change. Kai, Jamal, and Sam were leaders at George Washington and in their communities. I know they are making a difference at the University of Colorado Boulder, too.”