Wayzata High School senior Peter Larson is wrapping up his Sleep Out career with his 12th year this holiday season. Over the years he's raised nearly $400,000.
For some high school students, the fall of their senior year brings wistful final homecoming dances or football games; for Peter Larson, a senior at Wayzata High School, it will mark the last time he will spend more than a month of nights sleeping in frigid temperatures in a cardboard box.
For 12 years now, Larson, 17, has raised money for the Sleep Out, a fundraiser for Interfaith Outreach and Community Partners (IOCP) that aims to increase awareness of homelessness and other basic needs in seven communities in the west metro.
This year will be his eighth sleeping outside for all 49 nights of the fundraiser, which began with a kickoff event Saturday and runs through Dec. 31.
Larson was inspired to participate in the Sleep Out when he was 6 and an early supporter of the event visited his Cub Scout pack.
"He told us $575 could keep a family in their home for a month," he said. "I thought, 'I can do that.' Every year since then I've been raising my goals and earning more money. It makes me feel good that hundreds of families have been able to stay in their homes by my doing this."
In all, Larson has raised $388,474 and wants to bring in another $100,000 this year. Along the way he's garnered media attention, from morning-show hosts documenting his chilly wake-up routine to national publications profiling his fundraising efforts. He speaks to schools about his efforts, and last year he was a state honoree for the Prudential Spirit of Community Award.
All the while, the blond kid with a passion for computers and alpine skiing has quietly continued his efforts, planning each holiday season around Sleep Out-related fundraising efforts and spending his nights in a sleeping bag that his grandmother made 39 years ago.
In the past he's sold hats and created a haunted house to earn money; today, he has his own Web page, raises money through his church, and partners with two restaurants that donate a portion of their profits to his total.
"One thing I've noticed with Peter is that his commitment has never wavered. Other kids get distracted, but every year he's right there for us," said Lenore Franzen, IOCP marketing communications manager. "He's a very low-key kid with a great sense of humor. He doesn't make a big splash; he just goes about the work he's set out to do."
Over the years, Peter has met several families helped by IOCP. It was meeting actual families in need that kept him involved with the Sleep Out, he said.
"It was just a really moving experience to meet the families I'm helping directly," he said.
Next year, Larson hopes to attend college in California to study computer science. He says sleeping outside to raise money just wouldn't make sense in that climate.
"It wouldn't be the same, since it's sunny there," he said. "But maybe when I'm home over Christmas, I'll do it again one night. There will be an empty space in my life next year."
Erin Adler is a Twin Cities freelance writer.