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Optimists, church giving West Campus a boost

       In May 2012, the Westside Optimist Club disbanded, a victim of the modern generational trend away from service clubs.
       It was a blow for West Elementary and Middle School (informally called the West Campus), whose students had benefited from the group's long-time volunteer and even monetary contributions. The two share the historic school site off Pikes Peak Avenue between 19th and 20th streets.
       Adding a sense of need, District 11 statistics show West Elementary with 84 percent Title 1 students (qualifying for free or reduced-price lunches) and the middle school with 77 percent.
       But the setback in significant outside aid turned out to be temporary. The West schools are getting such help again this year - and from two sources this time, not just one.
       Optimists return
       One of the new sources is… yes, the Optimists. Although the Westside group never was able to get back together, the Academy Optimist Club, infused with some of the former Westside members, has restored the old connection.
       It was fortuitous that Donna Priester, one of the Academy Optimist leaders, is a former teacher (retired after 31 years) who'd worked with Judy Hawkins, the West Campus principal. All it took was a phone call. “Judy is totally behind doing things for the kids,” Priester said.
       Optimist assistance this year includes providing incentives for academic improvement, organizing a dance, planning community projects and establishing a junior Optimist Club at the middle school that teaches responsibility and leadership.
       “We're just having a great time over there,” Priester said. “And we always encourage parents to be involved.”
       Consisting of 65 members, the Academy group is the only remaining Optimist Club in Colorado Springs. The name is based on its original geographic area, off Academy Boulevard, and its meetings are still held at a restaurant on that street. The club is one of 3,000 in Optimist International. To fulfill its service goals, “We need about five clubs in Colorado Springs,” Priester said. “But it's harder to attract young members these days.”

Players on the West Middle School girls basketball team practice inside the Sanctuary Church's gym. The use agreement is one of the ways that the church (located across the street) has been helping both West Elementary and Middle School (West Campus) this school year.
Westside Pioneer photo

       A neighborly church
       The other recent source of help for the West Campus is the nearby Sanctuary Church, the backside of whose property is on the opposite side of Pikes Peak Avenue. Pastor Eric Sandras said the proximity creates a natural “partnership” opportunity, in keeping with the church's goals to build community. Before the start of this school year, “We approached them and said 'What do you need?'”
       The bond has strengthened ever since. Asked what Sanctuary has been doing for the school, West Assistant Principal Chris Lehman happily provided a bulleted list of items. Examples are selling parking spots for Territory Days last year and donating the proceeds to the school, making the church gym available (helpful because West has only one gym for the two schools), preparing meals for West staff during parent-teacher conferences, allowing staff use of the church parking lot, providing storage, offering tutoring and collecting resources for West families (such as clothes, food, toys, coats, blankets and toiletries).
       The reason that Sanctuary Church didn't step forward sooner is that it didn't even exist until 15 months ago and didn't move into its new location until last May.
       The location, 1930 W. Colorado Ave., is where Bethany Baptist Church had been since the 44,000-square-foot building was erected in 1954. Initially organized in 1889 as the First Baptist Church of Colorado City (in what is now the Old Colorado City History Center), Bethany at one time had a 900-member congregation, but in recent years it was “aging out” and its numbers dropping, Sandras said.
       In May 2014, the remaining 20 congregants dissolved Bethany and gifted the church property to Sanctuary, a non-denominational church which now has about 200 regular attendees at Sunday services, he said.
       Among other Sanctuary efforts are homeless outreach (including a Sunday morning meal before church), counseling and recovery groups.

Westside Pioneer article