Since 2006, the Exchange Club of Falcon has been flying under the radar to make El Paso County a better place.
“We always say we’re the best kept secret in town,” said Andy Conder, an Exchange Club of Falcon past president and one of only a few remaining original members who has been involved since the club was chartered. Conder said that most people he meets have usually never heard of the Exchange Club of Falcon. Yet, the impact doesn’t go unnoticed.
The National Exchange Club is the oldest service organization in America, established in 1911 in Detroit, Michigan. The club focuses on four core areas of impact: prevention of child abuse, Americanism, youth recognition and community service. Now, more than 100 years after its inception, the National Exchange Club is comprised of about 550 clubs and 18,000 total members nationwide.
“For a club of our size, we’re very, very active and have done a lot of projects in the community over the years,” Conder said.
In October, the club’s 14th annual craft fair at Falcon High School was a huge success. The event benefitted the Eastern Plains Community Pantry in Calhan. The service project raised over $5,000 in vendor fees and charitable contributions and collected 35 articles of winter clothing, 120 pounds of non-perishable food and 60 pounds of dog food for the pantry.
The club presented the donations to the pantry Nov. 6. “When we said we were presenting a check for $5,000, their jaws dropped. … We are really happy to help them. It’s a very worthy cause,” Conder said.
October also marked the club’s quarterly highway cleanup event along Falcon Highway. With the help of club members, friends and local Boy Scouts spent two-and-a-half hours gathering litter along the 2-mile stretch between Meridian Road and Good Fortune Road. They picked up 16 bags of trash and four animal carcasses.
As part of the youth recognition program, the Exchange Club of Falcon supports the local Boy Scout troop. Every February, the boys that make “Eagle Scout” receive an Exchange Club plaque and a $100 check for their accomplishment.
The club also works closely with area schools to recognize a “youth of the month,”which can eventually progress into “youth of the year.” The local club presents the winner of the latter a scholarship worth several hundred dollars. That student can progress through district and regional levels all the way to the national level to compete for a chance to be awarded the title of “national youth of the year,” along with a $10,000 scholarship.
For Americanism efforts, the club participates in a program called Give a Kid a Flag to Wave, where members donate U.S. flags to promote patriotism at local parades and events. The club also promotes patriotism by providing “freedom shrines” (which consist of replicas of historical documents on plaques that highlight the cost of freedom in America) to local schools and public places such as nursing homes and even a Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers restaurant on North Academy Boulevard.
The club also participates in miscellaneous acts of service beyond these regular programs. “We’ve done all kinds of different things in the community, including supporting veterans and nursing homes, honoring police and firefighters and more,” Conder said.
The club’s final project for 2023 is the annual Angel Tree program. Each year, beginning around the second week of November, the club sets up Christmas trees in businesses around El Paso County, and each tree is decorated with gift request tags in place of ornaments. Patrons can grab tags off the trees and purchase gifts or gift cards for the tag’s associated foster child. The Exchange Club of Falcon members then drop off the donations to foster care agencies they’ve partnered with, Hope & Home and Lutheran Family Services. The donations become Christmas gifts for children in unfortunate situations. For some, it’s the only Christmas gift they will receive.
Conder recalled a particularly touching moment from a previous year’s Angel Tree program and said, “We remember a 9-year-old boy; when we gave him a gift, he came up to us and told us, ‘This is the first Christmas present I’ve ever had in my life. I’ve never had a Christmas present.’ Talk about bringing tears to the group. That is the impact this program has. It’s great that these organizations partner with us and let us help them.”
Conder described the program as “enormously successful.”
On average, they collect between 600 to 800 gifts and between $2,000 to $3,000 worth of gift cards each year.
The Exchange Club of Falcon child abuse prevention committee chair, Theresa Koveleski, has helped with the Angel Tree program during previous years and is heading up the program this year.
“The first year I went and picked up the packages, I thought there would just be a few, but I was overwhelmed and my car was packed full,” Koveleski said. Conder joked that they almost needed to rent a U-Haul to transport the hundreds of presents to the foster care agencies.
The agencies give the club around 900 gift tags to hang on the trees, and each one is consistently fulfilled each year.
Koveleski’s husband and Exchange Club of Falcon president-elect for next year, Don Koveleski, said, “We go through all the tags. We go to Walmart and we’re always having to put more tags on the tree because that is such a big place — and very convenient for people to just buy it and drop it off the same day.”
This year, “Angel Trees” can be found at eight locations around El Paso County, including Falcon Walmart, Antler Creek Golf Club, Farmers State Bank in Falcon, The State Bank in Falcon, High Prairie Library, Cornerstone Cleaners in Monument, MITRE Corp. office in Colorado Springs and the American Insurance Exchange office on the second floor of Wells Fargo Bank at the corner of Platte Avenue and Circle Drive.
Theresa Koveleski hopes to add three or four more tree host sites to the list next year.
Her favorite part of the program is delivering the gifts. “They are so appreciative. The people are phenomenal, and it makes you feel so good that you are doing good,” she said.
Seeing the fruits of the labor is a highlight for many of the Exchange Club members.
“There’s a great deal of satisfaction on a job well done,” Conder said. “When we all pitch in together and roll up our sleeves and we do the work and see the results of what we do, it’s so gratifying that words almost cannot describe it.”
Like many clubs, the Exchange Club of Falcon is working to rebuild membership in the post-COVID-19 world to increase their impact.
“I think our community needs to see that the Exchange Club of Falcon is still around and do what we can for our community,” Don Koveleski said.
For those interested in joining the club, membership requires a $12 monthly fee and meetings are on the second Wednesday of each month at 6:30 p.m. at the Falcon Fire Protection District Station No. 3. For more information, visit https://exchangecluboffalcon.com or call Andy Conder at 719-337-6990.
Exchange Club: Don and Theresa Koveleski attended the Exchange Club of Falcon’s 14th annual craft fair in October at Falcon High School. The event benefitted the Eastern Plains Community Pantry in Calhan.