Carbondale Middle School family liaison makes giving a priority all year long

John Stroud
Glenwood Springs Post Independent
Roaring Fork High School National Honor Society students Vanessa Leon and Izzy Knaus, at left, go through donated items for the Carbondale Middle School Comfort Closet program, along with Mayett Perez, family liaison at CMS and Lorri Knaus, CMS librarian and Honor Society advisor.
John Stroud/Post Independent

The act of giving to those in our midst who are in need isn’t just a holiday thing for Carbondale Middle School family liaison Mayett Perez.

Along with some help this fall from students in Roaring Fork High School’s National Honor Society chapter, Perez is busy throughout the school year collecting clothes, food and personal hygiene items to have on hand for the families she comes in contact with — just in case.

She decided to call it the Comfort Closet, which quite literally is a large vertical stand-alone closet in the corner of her office at CMS.

Perez, who started as family liaison at the school last February, said the idea came about when she noticed an almost constant influx of new students coming into the school over the course of the fall semester.

“Last week alone, we had six newcomer families just to CMS,” Perez said in an interview on Dec. 16.

As family liaison, she helps a lot of the newcomers navigate the school registration process, translating for Spanish-speaking families and pointing them to various school-based and community resources.

“Many of the families that I help are new to the valley or are coming back from other states or their native land,” Perez said. “We were seeing this huge need for clothing and hygiene products, … just things people who get here with no money need.”

Honoring the effort

As head librarian at CMS, Lorri Knaus was familiar with Perez’s efforts. When she was asked to advise the National Honor Society chapter at RFHS, where her daughter, Izzy, is an honor student, she had an idea.

“There’s a service component to NHS, but it had kind of fallen by the wayside with our chapter,” Knaus said. “So, we were trying to bring that back.”

She asked the 26 students in the club to suggest service project ideas, and the Comfort Closet came up for consideration.

“The kids all voted, and it got the highest ranking,” Knaus said.

Earlier this month, the students rapidly organized a drive for clothing and personal care items and set up a table at the Brenda Patch Memorial Basketball Tournament.

“We have a lot of diversity in our community, and I don’t think we really pay a lot of attention to the needs that exist,” Vanessa Leon, a junior at RFHS and member of the NHS, said. “It’s sad to think we go to school with kids who need help … and this is a good way to help.”

Added Izzy Knaus, also a junior at Roaring Fork, “One of the important pillars of NHS for me is service. This has definitely helped some of the families in need who are right here in the valley, so that’s why this drive is so important for us.”

The students are planning another drive for donated items later in the basketball season, and maybe during the soccer season in the spring.

“Part of the learning process for the (honors) group is how to advertise an ongoing drive like this,” Lorri Knaus said.

Expanding the reach

Perez grew up in Carbondale herself and attended schools in Aspen where her mother worked. She’s seen the need firsthand among immigrant families in particular.

She now coordinates the family liaisons at the other Carbondale schools, and has expanded the Comfort Closet effort to include families in the elementary and high schools.

“It would be nice if we could partner up with some of the thrift stores in the area to collect some of the goods,” she said. “If there’s anything a student needs, whether it’s boots for the snow season, tennis shoes, a swimsuit for the end of the school year … the point is we don’t want kids going without something that they need.”

People are encouraged to save up possible donations over the holiday weeks and bring them to Perez at CMS after the winter break. Perez can usually be found at the school between 7:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. on school days once classes start back up Jan. 7.