Oct 122009

Victoria Keller is still an advocate of fighting poverty and hunger 22 years after starting Cans Around the Oval.

One of the original founders of Cans Around the Oval, Keller has spread her love of helping people into her volunteer work and job, as well as into her family.

Keller grew up in Washington D.C. and after attending a community college in Maryland, one of her professors triggered her interest in social welfare and justice. The discovery of her love for social work would be a major component in Keller’s life.

In order to pursue her newfound interest, Keller came to CSU for her social work degree in 1976. She then went on to earn her graduate degree in community and adult education.

After her graduation, Keller began working in Community Services, now known as Student Leadership, Involvement and Community Engagement.

Here, Keller would spend 16 years working in the office for the greater good creating programs such as Alternative Spring Break, CSU Unity, Special Needs Swim and Cans Around the Oval.

The idea for Cans Around the Oval, now Larimer County’s largest food drive, started in the spring of 1986. A public relations student interviewed the then-food bank Director Sandy Bowden, who spun the idea of circling the Lory Student Center Plaza with canned food, which would later be donated to the food bank.

After the student graduated, Bowden entered Keller’s office and handed her the two-page long report that included the idea of Cans Around the Oval. After reading it, Keller decided that it was worth a shot and started the food drive in 1987.

Throughout the course of Cans Around the Oval, many things have changed.

“We didn’t have a goal the first year. We didn’t weigh or count the food either. We just did it,” Keller said. “A food drive sounded like a great idea.”

Keller said that it is very fulfilling to see what has become of the program.

“It’s very rewarding to see CSU and the community partner in tradition to meet such a fundamental need,” Keller said. “I’m happy that those efforts continue.”

After surrounding herself with social welfare, her children also became involved.

“My kids are unique people, they are invested in the larger good,” Keller said. “As a parent, who your kids are is as important to you as whom you are.”

Victoria’s son, Nick Keller, attends Fort Collins High School and has been highly involved in Cans Around the Oval.

Spending many of his days in the SLiCE office with his mom, Nick said that his mom and the students in the office had a lot to do with his involvement.

“I go around in my neighborhood and go around to many of my neighbors collecting cans. It’s an annual thing,” Nick said. “I used to have this thing called the Red Wagon Express. I’d put all my cans in my wagon. Now, I kind of just expanded.”

One of his favorite memories was lining the donated cans around the Oval.

Nick said that he enjoys volunteering and thinks it is important to help people in their time of need.

“I think (Cans Around the Oval) is really important because there are a lot of people who need some help getting food. I think it’s fun to help out other people and volunteer,” he said.

Even after spreading her love for social welfare to her family, Victoria is still very active throughout the community.

“I’ve been really lucky,” Keller said. “I have a history of service and outreach and am a really active volunteer in town.”

Keller volunteers as a storyteller in schools and is a rape crisis advocate for Sexual Assault Victim Advocate, a center that helps victims of sexual assault.

She now works for a real estate company, staging houses and preparing them for the market.

Mark Haney, one of the first students to work on Cans Around the Oval, said Keller is one-of-a-kind.

“Victoria is one of the most dedicated and compassionate people I’ve ever met in my life,” Haney said. “It’s such a neat thing to see, coming back 20 years later, and she’s still here fighting the good fight.”

After 16 years of working in the SLiCE office, Keller has left her footprint at CSU through her dedication to social welfare. Her programs are still a major part of SLiCE.

Keller will be volunteering on Cans Around the Oval collection day Wednesday.

Staff writer Justyna Tomtas can be reached at news@collegian.com.

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