By Heather Stone
Matine Khalighi is the kind of person who inspires hope for the future. At 16, he is the vice president and a co-founder of Helping the Homeless Colorado, a nonprofit he started with former classmates and current board members Alyssa Gorkin and Ali Ginsburg while still in middle school.
The three took a community service class together in eighth grade where they were encouraged by their teacher to find a cause they believed in. Initially they hadn’t intended to start a full-blown charity, but they believed so strongly in helping the homeless that they officially filed for their 501(c)(3) status later the same year.
Now, what started as a class assignment is a thriving charity that has served over 4,000 meals and delivered over 5,000 hygiene products to homeless people in the form of supply bags.
Their nonprofit, Helping the Homeless Colorado, aims to engage youth in advocacy to support the homeless and advocate for policy and legislative change to address Colorado’s homeless crisis, all while providing street-level support in the form of the supply drop-offs.
To make the food bags, Khalighi, Gorkin, and Ginsburg would buy bulk food and supplies from Costco or visit bakeries to ask for end-of-day donations. Then they would hit the streets, hand-delivering the bags to people who could use them most while providing comfort and connection. Sometimes, the food was the only thing the person had eaten in days.
Despite the obvious benefits and far-reaching effects of the program it was not impactful enough for Khalighi and his fellow board members. They knew they could help even more people. To meet that goal, they started the College Scholarship Awards Program (CSAP), which is currently Khalighi’s main focus.
CSAP is aimed at providing motivated but disadvantaged students who have overcome poverty or homelessness with opportunities that might otherwise be out of reach. At least five high-performing high school seniors will be awarded with a $1,000 scholarship, with more scholarships available as funds permit. A food or hygiene bag meets immediate needs, but an opportunity like this could change a life.
In addition to managing the scholarship program and the food/hygiene bags, Khalighi has done everything from social media and outreach to fundraising for current and future projects.
For his service he was a recent runner-up for the Prudential Spirit of Community Award, given by the largest youth volunteer recognition program in the United States. Khalighi joins over 120,000 middle and high school students recognized by Prudential for “outstanding service to others at the local, state, and national level,” according to their website.
He dedicates up to 50 hours a week to the cause and still somehow manages full-time academics at Smoky Hill High School. Making matters more difficult is that he, Gorkin, and Ginsburg no longer attend the same school, so they sacrifice school breaks and weekends in order to keep their charity work alive. In the summer, he says they have at times spent “a full week of just meeting and doing work.”
Connection with others was and remains the most important part of his work.
“I have talked in depth with multiple individuals who have truly inspiring stories,” said Khalighi. “I think that our society neglects them and people let stereotypes shape their views about them, but I think that I really work to support them and help their voices be heard.”
His favorite story from comes from a connection, too — he gave a hygiene bag to an older woman he saw sitting by herself and she invited him to sit next to her. They talked for an hour and a half. During that time she told him that she had been homeless since she was a teen.
“[Her story] made my heart drop...I was in tears by the end. She inspired me to keep working hard for people like her,” Khalighi said.
As for the future, Khalighi, Gorkin, and Ginsburg are ready to do whatever is needed in a fast-changing city. Alyssa has been focusing more of her efforts on the political, according to Khalighi, which is “something that we didn’t think about two years ago. But it seems to be more of a need now.”
“We want to do what is needed. Who knows how the homeless issue will change in the next year,” Khalighi said. “Whatever road it takes, we want to be their voice and support them.” ■