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South Salt Lake Journal

High school students have fun while fundraising for local organizations

Apr 29, 2019 11:39AM ● By Justin Adams

Bingham High School students brought in food items and then assembled snack kits for the Jordan Education Foundation’s principals’ pantries. (Photo courtesy of Bingham High)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

A shy 5-year-old boy sat on his mother’s lap upon a throne, the center of attention of 2,300 Alta High School students.

Draper Park kindergartner William Burton, who was diagnosed with leukemia one year ago in January, already has undergone monthly treatments that have included steroids and chemotherapy. He was the face of Alta High’s effort to grant wishes to children at the Make-a-Wish Foundation.

High school students across the Salt Lake Valley reached out to community organizations this winter season to bring them joy and help, and at the same time, became grateful for what they have.

William, the youngest child of Chris and Julie Burton, both who graduated from Alta, likes to play goalie in soccer and loves being buried in the sand. His wish is to go to Hawaii where he hopes to see sea turtles and dolphins.

“This is a life-changer for him, for all of us,” Chris Burton said. “There are so many people who are reaching out, giving us support. It definitely lightens our spirits.”

At the final assembly, which carried a Hawaiian theme, and students as well as Will’s family were taught a hula dance, Alta students learned the first high school to ever reach out to Make-a-Wish was theirs.

“We love helping Make-a-Wish,” senior class vice president Braque Bunkall said. “We love children; they are so kind, sweet and loving. Will makes this more relatable for us so we can see the impact we’re making.”

Bunkall said that through a variety of activities, from ping pong and spike ball tournaments to selling hot chocolate and performing odd jobs, students have helped donate funds earmarked for Make-a-Wish. 

As of press deadline, students raised $20,000, enough money to not only support Will, but also the wishes of four other children, with two more events to be held, said Principal Brian McGill.

Nearby Jordan High reached out to help the Utah Refugee Center, as did students at Brighton High in Cottonwood Heights.

Jordan High senior and student body officer over spirit Jeddy Bennett said they wanted to help answer a need.

“We saw there was a need to help these people who have a lot less,” he said. “The Utah Refugee Center says there are 65,000 refugees in Utah and we have some at Jordan. They are humble about their situation and appreciate everything. We realize we have a lot more than they do.”

To help raise funds for them, Bennett took part in several activities that were offered, from spike ball to Smash Brothers tournaments or donating money to watch a holiday movie. Students also performed odd jobs, which was new this year, to raise funds through service. Many students shoveled snow from driveways, washed windows, wrapped presents, helped with organizing a book about family history, cleaned and did whatever chores to “show students care about those around them and want to be helpful.”

Bennett felt the generosity of the community when he took a neighbor’s car to the carwash and found a sizeable donation for the effort.

“I was very surprised when I received a $100 bill, but then there was another one folded inside. My mouth dropped to the floor,” he said.

There were “dash for cash” activities, where students could earn a free hour-long lunch if they raised $1,000 in 20 minutes, which they were able to do a couple times.

Jordan students also challenged — and lost — to the faculty in a basketball game.

“We didn’t let them win,” Bennett said. “People would pay to change the course of the game, so someone could make a donation and we couldn’t play defense, or no student government players could play.”

That game alone raised $3,500 of the $15,238 the students donated, the most the school has raised in at least the past seven years, according to senior Gwen Christopherson, who is the student body vice president of service.

“This is amazing for us,” she said. “I am so proud. We have students who aren’t as well off as some schools, but they were giving what they could.”

Christopherson said $12,000 was given to the refugees, and with the remainder, student body officers, along with Latinos-in-Action, purchased food for Midvale students, who may not have much during the winter break.

“It was cool to see that through this fundraiser, we had more kids become involved and come together because they wanted to help. We learned to be grateful for what we have,” she said.

Brighton High students not only raised funds, but also decided to provide needed items for refugees, said junior Grace Bunker, who said the junior class brought soap and razors for the hygiene kits.

“We exceeded our goal,” she said, adding that through her church, she has done activities to welcome refugees. “It was a good cause because we have a lot of refugees in Utah.”

Brighton students made 320 hygiene kits and gave more than 3,000 extra supplies and more than $9,000 to the Utah Refugee Center.

In addition, student leaders would give service to various community groups to celebrate the student body serving the refugees. The service ranged from helping adults with disabilities and providing socks to the homeless to caroling or playing bingo at a senior center to helping with the Burrito Project and at the Utah Food Bank.

“We wanted to not only make a difference, but to make a connection to our community,” said senior and student body vice president Kaitlyn Newitt. “We really feel that by providing service, as well as money and items, it is a more satisfying contribution to our community.”

Utah Refugee Center volunteer Katie Graham thanked the students, saying their personal connection made the difference.

“We’re thrilled at their participation with the refugees and our community,” she said. “They were able to deliver and bring the kits and support them at a Christmas event. They understood their need and helped to answer it.”

Principal Tom Sherwood said he appreciated students being involved in the community.

“It’s important that their focus becomes more community-minded and learn to give back at an early age,” he said. “They did a great job of becoming proactive and coming together to impact the local community.”

Murray High students reached out to several organizations through the coordinating efforts of the student leaders. Working together with Latinos-in-Action, Gay/Straight Alliance and cheerleaders, student government leaders involved students in several service activities, including writing letters to Utah and California firefighters, organizing and holding a party for children at the Boys and Girls Club in Murray and teaming up with the shop students to create blocks to donate to Primary Children’s Hospital, said student body officer adviser Jessica Garrett.

A year-long project, under the direction of Murray High’s Peer Leadership Team (PLT), has been to include all clubs and groups on campus to raise money for Utah Health and Human Rights. Through school-wide efforts, thus far, they have raised $685, including working together with the soccer team to hold a bake sale that made $200, said PLT adviser Kim Parkinson.

Nearby Cottonwood High students raised $6,500 to support the Salt Lake Valley Emergency Fund (SLVEF), a nonprofit organization that works with victims of violent crimes and domestic violence.

“We did this by having a winter charity assembly where different talents performed, we auctioned off dates with our SBOs and cutting locks of hair from a student who has grown out his hair for over a year,” said adviser Amy Thomas.

The winter charity assembly included performances from the dance company, jazz musicians, vocal duets, a solo bagpipe performance, Latinos-in-Action dancers and a male drill team. 

Students also donated decorated trees that were purchased during the school’s musical and at the scrimmage basketball game, and a competition was held where donations were collected during the students’ first-period class.

Thomas said the local organization was chosen because it educated students about what the organization is and how it benefits the community.

“We like the money raised by our students to have in impact on people of our community,” she said. “(When) the director spoke to the students at the assembly and I think a lot of them really had their eyes opened as to what was going on. We also had a former victim of sexual abuse speak to the students and relate her experience with trauma and the lack of support she had while going through it. The SLVEF could have been a huge help to her and her family had it been around during her abuse.” 

In Midvale, Hillcrest High students raised more than $19,000, their highest ever, for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, an illness that has affected some students and faculty members and their families.

One of those is teacher and coach Natalie Moss, who was diagnosed days after she was born, said student body activities officer Tammie Tan.

“She gave us a presentation and told us the life expectancy for someone with CF is about 38 years old,” Tan said. “Here she is wanting to do so much with her life and having goals. It really touched us. It made us aware if we have the opportunity to help someone and donate to a good cause, we should be grateful we are able to do it.”

Tan, who participated in the dodgeball tournament and ate dog food to help raise money, said many students got involved in this year’s activities after learning about the disease and how it had impacted their school community. 

Her classmate and student body treasurer Sydney Larsen said the all-day assembly started with raising $400 in the first hour and built upon each hour until it ended with $1,000. Students took part in activities from eating pies to licking peanut butter off of plexiglass. The annual favorite was donating money to save or shave classmates’ hair, said Larsen, who participated in the eat or wear mustard and mayonnaise activity.

“We did these things to help raise and appreciate every dollar,” she said.

Other activities included Hillcrest Idol; an auction where several businesses supported their efforts, donating items such as nail salon coupons, sunglasses and chocolate; and the drill team versus dance company basketball game where students could pay to change the outcome of the game.

“At one point the drill team was playing on their knees and the SBOs subbed in for them. We broke so many basketball rules, but it was possibly the best fun I’ve had at Hillcrest,” Larsen said. “Even while having fun, we were able to instill a connection with our community and to work together for a common goal, to give to a cause.”

In South Jordan, Bingham High students raised money through their annual holiday fundraiser, True Blue, for the Starlight Foster Program, the Make-A-Wish Foundation, and the Jordan Education Foundation (JEF), which helped to benefit principals’ pantries.

“We chose to work with these groups because they are all local and right here in our community,” student body officer of service Ashlee Webb said. “True Blue is all about coming together as a school and a student body to do things that are bigger than us for the good of others.”

Students raised the donations through door-to-door service nicknamed squad jobs, admission charged to their talent show, Mr. True Blue pageant, pay-to-play improv show, Zumbathon and True Blue dance tickets, as well as various activities held at lunch time. True Blue T-shirt sale proceeds also were earmarked to benefit their causes, she said.

Webb said students wanted to help the Starlight Foster Program that works with local foster children and families to ensure safe family connections, as well as Make-A-Wish, where they helped a 3-year-old boy, who lives in South Jordan. 

“Because of everyone’s hard work, we were able to grant his wish of going to the theme parks in Florida,” Webb said.

Students all pitched in to bring in a specific list of food items to go into weekend and snack kits for the principals’ pantries, she said, adding that Bingham was able to make more than 5,000 snack kits.

“There is a principal’s pantry in every school in the district. It is a place where students can go who may not know where their next meal is coming from,” Webb said. “As a student body, with the help of the JEF, we were able to assemble over $21,000 worth of kits for the pantries on our school-wide Day of Service, held on Dec. 21. 

We also raised over $53,000 in physical monetary donations and 6,050 service hours as a school.” 

Corner Canyon High School students didn’t set a monetary goal this winter season to help others with the Tyler Robinson Foundation, said student body president Luke Warnock.

“We just wanted people to give,” he said. “We know at Corner Canyon many of us live in a wealthy community, so we wanted to encourage students to give of ourselves what we can give, if it’s time or $3 or things, to benefit those who need help.”

Money was collected from activities such as the students’ ugly sweater dance and a ping-pong tournament, as well as raising money through performing odd jobs in the community, he said.

Senior and student body audo/visual officer Julia Tolk said students raked leaves, did dishes, watched children and hauled boxes to the trash during the busiest month of the year for many people.

“It was so hard to fit it in our schedules at this time of year, but so worth it,” she said. “It ended up being fun and rewarding.”

There also was a yard sale in the commons and student leaders auctioned off tickets to Utah Jazz games and to the Imagine Dragons concert.

Instead of one huge goal for students to reach as a reward for earning a certain amount of money, Tolk said they had several levels they could achieve, such as raise $15,000 to watch a movie in the commons, $30,000 to have the teachers switch spots teaching or $60,000 to get a school pet fish.

“People were excited to get a fish and name it,” Tolk said.

The money then would be donated to the Tyler Robinson Foundation, a foundation set up by a Brighton High parents in honor of their son who died of cancer, to help support pediatric cancer patients and their families.

Principal Darrell Jensen said it has been two years in a row the school has donated to the Tyler Robinson Foundation.

“They can see the value in it, how they are able to touch their lives,” he said. “It brings this close to home.”

Not until the final assembly were the students made aware of their progress: $77,562.08, surpassing last year’s efforts of $63,000.

“People were crying, feeling good they helped so much,” Tolk said. “It was just amazing.”

Adults also pitched in this holiday season. For example, at Canyons School District, employees and others donated about $10,000 through a silent auction and donation drive benefitting students and families residing at The Road Home homeless shelter in Midvale. The money will be used to provide students with services and supports that aren’t covered by federal funding.

Murray Board of Education member Glo Merrill was contacted by adults who lived in Draper who wanted to donate to students. They were joined by a neighborhood in Murray, Walden Hills, that decided not to give neighbor gifts this year, but instead bring warmth and joy to children, she said about the grassroots effort.

“I thought that was nice and suggested they bring coats, thinking we may get about 10 to help children at Parkside, one of our Title I schools,” Merrill said. “We ended up with 110 coats. It was more than I ever imagined.”

Merrill said that with the help of Murray Fire Department, the coats as well as some clothing and boots, were from children’s sizes to size adult extra large. Not only did Merrill and others help sort and distribute them at Parkside, but they also decided to share with women and children at The Road Home.

“You cannot imagine how much a coat can help these children. One little girl put one on and said, ‘I look beautiful. I’m a princess,’” she said. “It’s remarkable how people in the (Salt Lake) Valley and our city are willing to come together to help give. It made me so happy.”