NewsColumbine: 25 Years Later


Columbine High School reclaims April 20 with Day of Service

Posted: 6:04 PM, Apr 17, 2024
Updated: 2024-04-20 11:41:09-04
Columbine Day of Service

JEFFERSON COUNTY, Colo. — In the years following April 20, 1999, the day became a dark spot on the calendar for Columbine High School and the surrounding community.

"It started to turn into this day that people really dreaded, really heavy. It was just because everyone was just kind of waiting for that day," said Columbine High School teacher Jeff Garkow.

In 2016, a group of Columbine teachers decided to reimagine what that day could be and came up with an annual day of service.

Columbine High School reclaims April 20 with Day of Service

"Just a chance to kind of show people who Columbine is now, what this Rebel family is all about. And show people that we are more than our worst day," explained Garkow.

Students have had the day off from school since 2000. However, through the Day of Service, the school coordinates service opportunities and the students are encouraged to spend the day volunteering.

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About 450 students participated in the first Columbine Day of Service on April 20, 2017. Last year, 1,500 of the school's 1,700 students took part.

"My freshman year, I was kind of like, 'Oh yeah, my friends are doing it so I'll do it, too. My teacher's telling me to do it.' But then my sophomore year, it kind of sunk in. And I was like, 'This is actually really important,'" said Columbine High School junior Heidi Heivilin.

For her Day of Service project, Heivilin is helping collect donations for a Denver food pantry. There were more than 60 projects last year, including volunteering at the Humane Society and building trails for Jeffco Open Space.

The day of service has grown into an annual community event.

"It's started to shift now where we have a lot of groups reaching out to us, just as more people in the community have gotten to know about Day of Service that there are groups actually interested in partnering with us and having students come out and do work," Garkow said. "And so it's been kind of cool to be on that end of things. It seems to be something the community appreciates, and a lot of people are starting to get behind and kind of reimagining that day and what it can be and wanting to put all that positivity and love out into the world."

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Columbine alumni all over the world use April 20 to do good wherever they are.

"One of our former students who's at the University of North Carolina now, for two or three years in a row, has helped organize a project on campus," Garkow said. "We've had students who are in other parts of the country putting projects together in their neighborhoods and parks and elementary schools that their kids are going to now. I think at this point eight years in, Antarctica is the only continent that has not hosted a service project on April 20."

For the Columbine community and Jefferson County, April 20 is no longer a dreaded day each year.

"It's still sad. You still mourn the loss. But it's turned it into more of a positive event," Heivilin said.

"I think it's changed to a day a lot of people are looking forward to now," Garkow said. "Our students are excited about it. Our staff is excited about it. The county is involved. Businesses offer deals to students when they come in with Day of Service shirts on."

Nothing will erase the tragedy, but the Day of Service has gone a long way toward healing and broadening the school's identity.

"It's a celebration now — a celebration of who we are as a community and a celebration of the lives that we lost as well," Garkow said. "That's something that we talk about a lot when we are doing these acts of service. We are doing it to remember the 13 who were lost."