Dylan Cole, Abby Gerdis, Jaden Gerdis, Karson Herder and Josh Cole

Board of directors for the Student Community Outreach nonprofit are five Desert Vista High School students, from LEFT: Dylan Cole, Abby Gerdis, Jaden Gerdis, Karson Herder and Josh Cole are leaders in their organization’s commitment to helping area children and children-at-risk. Dylan and Josh are sophomores and the three others are seniors.

One of Ahwatukee’s newest nonprofits was founded – and is led – by five Desert High School students.

Student Community Outreach was incorporated as a nonprofit last May and its board includes seniors Abby Gerdis, Jaden Gerdis and Karson Herder and sophomores Joshua and Dylan Cole. The Coles and the Gerdises comprise two sets of twin siblings.

Their review of the inaugural year said they and volunteers served more than 3,000 students and families through 12 projects that included a July school supply drive, October’s Snack Drive for Snack Bags and December’s holiday toy drive in conjunction with AZ Helping Hands, which helps foster children with basic needs.

The teens hosted three community drives, amassed approximately 100 volunteer hours and welcomed 45 new volunteers.

Their philanthropic roots run deep. 

All five expressed their passion for volunteering – a practice that began for each as children. 

“Personally, I grew up volunteering to help those in need, thanks to my parents. I probably started volunteering around age 5 with Feed My Starving Children and Snack Packs for Backpacks,” said Abigail ‘Abby’ Gerdis, SCO’s director of communications and community outreach. 

“And ever since a very young age, I have been connected to children, and had a strong passion for education,” she added.

Her brother Jaden, director of marketing and brand management, echoed her and said Student Community Outreach is a vehicle for him to give back to the community in which he grew up.

“I have been blessed with many gifts and abilities, and this nonprofit allows me to help others that are less fortunate,” he said.

Karson, the group’s director of finance and philanthropy, said he too finds the group a way to implement his passion for giving back.

“SCO gives me the opportunity to be more hands-on in the management of a nonprofit,” he said. 

“I can see the impact that I’m making by the smile on a kid’s face when they receive one of our donated items. SCO challenges me to continually strive to make a real difference in people’s lives.”

As director of projects and project management, Joshua said SCO offers an opportunity for personal growth.

“SCO to me is an outlet for good; something that blesses others as well as me,” he said. “It’s something that makes me happy because it allows me to connect to people that I may not have otherwise had the opportunity to meet.”

His brother Dylan, director of calendar and corporate records, concurred.

“Being a part of our nonprofit provides me a sense of satisfaction knowing that I can positively impact someone’s day or week,” said Dylan. 

“It adds a sense of purpose and direction to how my life will be in the future,” he added. “It also teaches me leadership skills and offers me time to collaborate with my fellow SCO directors.”

All five currently volunteer with Hope for the Homeless, crediting one of its board members, Don O’Neill for encouraging them to start their own nonprofit and mentoring them both before and after. 

A former Ahwatukee resident now living in Tempe, O’Neill explained he met with the students and their parents in late 2019.

He asking if they’d be interested in forming a nonprofit to serve an unmet need or underserved part of the community.

He said it didn’t take long before the young adults agreed “to create a better tomorrow for students and children-at-risk by providing essential items and resources that would help with their education at school and at home.”

“Working with young adult volunteers at Hope for the Homeless, I quickly realized most of them had a sincere desire to serve and gave freely of their time,” O’Neill recalled, adding:

“Many were regulars at events where packing, sorting, organizing and similar tasks were essential to fulfilling the project at hand.”

He is proud of how the five teens have embraced and tackled the challenge.

Since forming Student Community Outreach, the five directors have executed dozens of projects “that have had a direct, positive impact on the lives of hundreds of students, families, teachers and school administrators in Maricopa County,” O’Neill said. 

“The success of SCO has been the direct result of leadership exhibited by the directors. I’m proud of the personal and professional growth each director has shown as they’ve worked tirelessly to fulfill the mission of SCO,” he continued, adding that 2021 “will prove to be a growth year of service for the SCO directors.” 

The Student Community Outreach Board members are actively pursuing the expansion of their nonprofit within the community and greater Phoenix area, all the while attending classes online at Desert Vista.  

 Their goals also include furthering their education while running their nonprofit.

The Gerdis twins are both entering Arizona State University this fall with Abby majoring in elementary education and Jaden in business. 

Karson also will attend ASU this fall, majoring in biomedical engineering at Barrett, the Honors College at Arizona State University.

But they and the Cole brothers also are continuing a strong focus on the nonprofit.

 “In 2021, we are expanding our focus from just students in our community to also include at-risk youth,” said Abby. “With our expanded scope, we will also partner with other organizations to support foster children or children living with their non-biological parents.” 

Upcoming SCO projects include gathering and assembling snack bags for students throughout this month and organizing a hygiene supply drive for the Kyrene Family Resource Center in February.

The teens hope to further engage the community in their efforts to help children.

“The community can help our organization through donating to us with their time and resources. We’re excited to open up more volunteer opportunities in 2021 and would love to have new members of the community pour their time into helping others,” Abby said. 

“When we have volunteer opportunities, it’s posted on our social media, both Facebook and on Instagram @studentcommunityoutreach.”

She said funding their monthly projects relies on community donations, both money and supplies when SCO hosts a project drive. 

Donations can be made directly to them via their website: studentcommunityoutreach.org. 

SCO can also receive benefits through Fry’s Food and Drugs Community Rewards Program.

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