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CSS Sophomore Breathes Life Into Cemeteries Throughout Region

Within a few weeks of moving to the Pikes Peak region, CSS sophomore Ahna W. ’24 sought volunteer opportunities that paired her love of history and writing with a desire to get to know her new community.

“I believe that one of the best ways you can learn about a place is by learning about its people,” she said.

Her search led to Evergreen Heritage, a volunteer organization dedicated to the history and care of Evergreen Cemetery, established soon after Gen. William Palmer founded the city in 1871. Ahna crafts monthly newsletters with information on upcoming volunteer events such as headstone cleaning projects, tagging roses to help identify old-growth ones at the cemetery, and trash removal. She peppers the newsletters and the group’s Facebook page with interesting historical tidbits about the city’s earliest pioneers who have been laid to rest there, including Gen. Palmer.

One day, as she browsed online for a museum to explore, Ahna discovered Miramont Castle Museum in Manitou Springs. Seeing that the museum was recruiting volunteers, she reached out before touring the 1895 chateau in person. Today, Ahna archives artifacts, helps with the museum’s social media channels, designs informational flyers, and volunteers at the gift shop.

While logging more than 300 volunteer hours with the castle during the summer, Anna learned that the museum’s director, along with the Manitou Historical Society, wished to hold a fundraiser to repair damages sustained from vandalism to the nearby Crystal Valley Cemetery in May. Ahna jumped at the chance to help, seeing the fundraiser as an opportunity to create a preservation society inspired by the existing one at Evergreen. She envisions a volunteer group that helps with projects such as laying wreaths on Veterans’ headstones in December.

“As a Colorado Springs native with paternal roots deeply set in Manitou, the name ‘Crystal Valley Cemetery’ caught my eye,” said Amy Miller, a CSS English teacher who also tracks community service hours for Upper School students. “I have several family members buried there, and rarely do I see anyone who knows of the cemetery’s existence, let alone a dedicated young person who volunteers on its behalf. My personal thanks goes out to Ahna for caring for a place that is dear to my heart.”

What began as volunteer opportunities have led to so much more for the 15-year-old, including connecting with people who share similar interests.

“I have really fallen in love with Manitou, as well as with Colorado Springs, and I know that they wouldn't be what they are today had it not been for the people who founded and cared for this community first,” Ahna said. “So, in a way, I would say that my heart is attached to it.”

For the Crystal Valley Cemetery fundraiser, which is being planned, Ahna will lead 30-minute tours and share details about Victorian mourning traditions. She hopes others will discover and appreciate the unique history that cemeteries hold.

“I feel that the projects I work on and the help I give – no matter how big or how small – are my way of showing gratitude to the people who created the communities and the environment I am so lucky to be able to treasure today,” Ahna said. “In this, I also feel drawn to encourage others to experience what I have found through volunteering.”

Already this school year, Ahna has more than completed her required Upper School community service hours, which – due to COVID – has stood at 18-plus required hours per year since 2020. To date, she has submitted 330 hours completed since May, with many more to come.