In Susanville, California, the “Cobi Challenge” inspires the community to support The Salvation Army.
Ten-year-old Cobi Roshau is on a mission. In his second season as a volunteer bellringer for the Susanville (California) Salvation Army, he aims to double the dollars he collected last year.
“Last year, I got $1,000,” Cobi said. “But this year, since there’s no Toys for Tots, I’m trying to go up to $2,000.”
Cobi’s enthusiasm for the Red Kettle Campaign has galvanized the community, with both children and adults accepting the “Cobi Challenge” to ring the bell to help others. He’s also supporting The Salvation Army Angel Tree program to ensure local children receive Christmas gifts.
Cobi has become something of a local celebrity, after several guest spots on the radio and a newspaper article that coined the phrase, “Be like Cobi.”
It’s not the personal attention that motivates him, though.
“Sometimes when we drive around town, I see homeless people on the side of the road asking for money,” he said. “And I feel so bad because I have a roof over my head and who knows how long they haven’t? I’ve been trying to get more money to actually try to get houses for the homeless.”
His mother, Jennifer Roshau, said Cobi has always enjoyed helping people.
“This is very much his passion,” she said. “And it’s something that he doesn’t see as a chore. He actually enjoys it.”
Cobi’s connection with The Salvation Army began last year. At their mother’s suggestion, Cobi and his younger brother Dakoda created Christmas wish lists on Amazon. When Roshau checked them out, each totalled over $2,000, and she realized it was time for a paradigm shift.
“I’m like, ‘you guys are entitled; you have no idea,’” Roshau said. “I told them I wanted them to do something to give back to other people who are less fortunate.”
So, in 2022, the Roshaus signed up as a family to ring the bell at a red kettle. Dakoda and his dad took the first hour and Cobi and his mom took the second hour.
“After that, he took off with it on his own and it didn’t stop there,” Roshau said, adding that Cobi now helps The Salvation Army throughout the year—volunteering on food distribution days, delivering food to shut-ins and preparing holiday food boxes.
“Once, when he was helping on a food distribution day, one of the people that he helped load groceries into their car was a classmate of his,” Roshau said. “I think the more he does, and the more he sees, the more he understands the importance of helping others. And he’s just got that heart.”
Cobi requested the last bellringing shift of the 2023 season, on Saturday, Dec. 23. The local radio station has set a time for him to speak on the night of Dec. 22, when he’ll give the final push for his Cobi Challenge.
“I tell people where I’m going to be and what time,” Cobi said. “And then the people hear me on the radio and they come down and donate.”
Roshau said the last time Cobi was on the air he explained how he got involved and that he’s been working with The Salvation Army throughout the year. Currently, he’s emphasizing the importance of the Angel Tree program, since the closure of the Lassen County Toys for Tots program leaves a gap for local children that The Salvation Army is working hard to fill.
Both Cobi and his brother have adopted Angel Tree kids. Recently, one Angel Tree tag caught his attention.
“I saw a tag that some kid wanted a blanket,” Cobi said. “I have lots of blankets, and I love blankets. And that reminded me of a special blanket, and I was like, ‘That’s hard, not having your favorite blanket around.’”
Roshau said this compassion is what she hoped to see in her sons.
“It’s very simple things, things our kids take for granted,” she said. “Other people, they have no idea if they’re going to wake up in the morning and they’re going to be on cloud nine with some warm clothes. And [if they get] a bike—it’s probably going to feel like a treasure.”
The Roshaus knew about The Salvation Army because it’s the main provider of social services in Susanville, a rural town with a population of 16,673 in the remote high desert region of northeastern California. The Salvation Army Susanville Service Center operates with just one paid employee, Coordinator Carla McDonald.
“When I look at this young man and his huge heart of compassion for those less fortunate than himself, my faith and hope are renewed in the generation of the future.”—Carla McDonald
McDonald said the service center has seen an increase in food insecurity and overall need. And while the food pantry is its main outreach, it also provides rent and utility assistance, emergency lodging, car repair, summer camp at Camp Del Oro for 50 children, back-to-school assistance (backpacks, supplies, free haircuts and a $125 clothes shopping spree), holiday food boxes, senior food box delivery and the Angel Tree program.
“We have tremendous community support,” McDonald said. “I am blown away time and time again by the way this small ‘Mayberry-type’ community supports us…I have the most amazing team of volunteers anyone could ever have—about 10 to 12 core volunteers who are here every day and at every event in the community.”
Cobi is fast becoming a key volunteer. He said volunteering at Christmas is special.
“This is where everything big happens, like the kettle bells, Angel Tree, all the food boxes and stuff,” he said. “And whenever I ring the bell during this time, I think about the people who are still outside in the snow. So I try to work extra hard this time of year to get them at least a hotel room for a few days.”
Roschau holds the knowledge of Cobi’s sweet spirit close at hand, recognizing the importance of helping others has taken root in him.
“I won’t lie—there’s times when Cobi drives me crazy,” Roschau said. “But then there are those days when he has a full day off from school, and he’s down at The Salvation Army for three or four hours, helping out there. And that reminds me of what I tried to teach him, about giving. I’m very proud of his heart and his willingness to help.”
McDonald said she gets a bit emotional when she talks about Cobi.
“When I look at this young man and his huge heart of compassion for those less fortunate than himself, my faith and hope are renewed in the generation of the future,” she said.
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