By Rupa Shenoy, Daily Herald Staff Writer, Monday, March 26, 2007
Wheaton Academy’s students are being nationally recognized not only for their successful fundraising efforts but also the creative means they used to raise money. Twelve students led the Zambia project each year; below are five current members of that group. Each thought up projects, organized them and, in most cases, did outreach to the whole student body to get everyone involved.
Five years ago, a group of student leaders at Wheaton Academy in West Chicago got together and decided that they were meant to do something big — but they didn’t know what, or even how. “We had no idea what we were doing,” said the group’s adviser, teacher Chip Huber. The desire to help eventually led them to work as an entire school to help one small community in Zambia that has been devastated by AIDS.
Through sacrifice and creative fundraising, Academy students raised thousands of dollars to fund a new school and provide basic necessities that were sorely needed. Recognition was never the goal. But this year the school beat out dozens of contenders nationwide to be named winner of the national Association For Fundraising Professionals’ William R. Simms Award for Outstanding Youth in Philanthropy in the age 5-to-17 category. The Academy students were nominated for the prestigious award by the Chicago AFP chapter and will pick up their prize Tuesday at the national association’s convention in Dallas. The gathering will feature noted speakers including actress Brooke Shields and seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong.
“Hopefully, by getting this award, we can be a model to other schools of what to do,” said senior Matt Taylor, 18, a member of the 12-student group that currently leads the Zambia effort.
During summer 2002, two things happened that led the student leaders, and eventually the whole school, on this path. The group read a statistic showing evangelical Christians were the least likely group in the world to respond to the growing needs of people with AIDS. Also, Bono, lead singer of the band U2, came to town, spreading the message that people with AIDS needed help.
Through a friend of Huber’s, the group learned about World Vision, an international humanitarian organization. Students went through Vision’s catalog of needed items and settled on the most expensive: $53,000 for the first school in Kakolo village in Zambia. The student leaders swung into action, educating the whole school about the effort. The groups raised money by holding car washes and dress-down days. Students held a “30-hour famine” during which people sponsored teens who chose not to eat for two days. Girls throughout the student body bought, borrowed or reused old dresses for two annual banquets and donated what they would have spent on new clothes to the effort. Within a year, the school had raised more than $78,000.
Their success made them more determined to help, and each year a group of student leaders has continued the effort to help the 1,500 residents of Kakolo village. In the 2003 school year, the students raised almost $60,000, providing 525 families in the village with food, seeds, tools and animals. The next year, they held more than 40 fundraisers and collected more than $117,000, which bought Kakolo a new medical facility with a maternity wing. The student body exceeded all its prior efforts last year by raising $150,000, which funded medical equipment, the construction of homes and a youth outreach center. This year, among much else, students are sending “caregiver kits” to families in the village, filled with necessities and a personal note. Many Academy students each sponsor a child in the town.
“This gives our lives a purpose. This is something you can pour yourself into,” said Katy Kantner, a student leader. The bond between the academy and the village grew with two trips by Huber and students to Africa. The school has made a long-term commitment to Kakolo to effect lasting change, Huber said. The current student leaders admit that their message doesn’t always get through to everyone. But the point, they said, was to try as hard as they can. “We’ve been called by God,” said senior Johnnie Lotesta, 18.