Aspen High School club raises $100,000 |

Aspen High School club raises $100,000

Katie Redding
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO, Colorado

ASPEN ” Aspen is full of deep-pocketed philanthropists and wildly successful fundraisers, but who knew some of the best fundraisers were students?

Last week, the Action in Africa club at Aspen High School surpassed its audacious $100,000 fundraising goal. The club’s own Michael Schwartz donated the final dollars from his Bar Mitzvah money, according to the Action in Africa website.

The success is not simply the result of a few generous parents, said club sponsor Lance Finkbeiner; the largest cash donation was $1,000. A fundraiser that included a concert by hip-hop stars Run DMC and a talk by Ishmael Beah, author of “A Long Way Gone,” held with the Aspen Writers Foundation, netted nearly $20,000.

The group also held two “days of silence” (in which students sought sponsorships for keeping silent), sold DVDs and T-shirts, screened movies such as “Invisible Children: The Loss of Innocence,” and held bake sales and a silent auction.

A $30 donation from all club members raised a small windfall, especially because many parents gave as well, student member Kyle Langley said.

“It’s slowly added up,” said Langley. “We haven’t had one $50,000 event.”

Children from other local schools, including the Waldorf School on the Roaring Fork, the Aspen Community School and the Aspen Middle School, also helped the club with its goal. Recently, for example, the fifth-grade class at the Aspen Middle School sent the club $82.

The club has already begun sending money to three nonprofit organizations working to build schools and orphanages and provide AIDS care in Africa: Free the Children, Invisible Children and the Ssejinja Children’s Foundation. Finkbeiner and several of his students have particularly glowing praise about the latter organization, whose founder, David Ssejinja, has visited the school twice. Eight students from Aspen High School and Finkbeiner will be traveling to Uganda this summer on a trip ” unaffiliated with the school ” to help with a Ssejinja library and medical clinic.

“[Ssejinja] talked about how your life on this earth is so small and miniscule,” recalled student J.D. Redmond. “The question is what are you going to do to leave the world a better place when you die?”

The Action in Africa club formed last year with the initial goal of raising $25,000 for African education programs. They surpassed that amount “pretty easily,” according to Finkbeiner, bringing in $42,272 by the end of the year. In September, they set their 2007-08 goal at $57,198, a number calculated to leave them with $100,000 at the end of their two-year existence.

It is now the school’s most popular club, by far, Finkbeiner said ” at least on paper. More than 200 of Aspen High’s 500 students paid the $30 donation to join the club this year, though Finkbeiner said about 60 reliably attend the biweekly meetings.

Some of the more active students in the club say its existence hasn’t just helped African children learn; it’s also contributed to their education.

“I guess what I learned is how to kind of pitch something to somebody else, how to be informed, how to get people on board and present yourself so people will want to get involved,” said Redmond, who recently wrote letters about Africa’s plight to his congressional representatives and local newspapers. He also thinks Action in Africa’s success has given him the confidence to initiate future projects, whatever they may be.

Finkbeiner adds that numerous students have applied their talents to the real-life project. Students have created persuasive films, updated the club’s fundraising website, performed at fundraisers, called businesses to ask for in-kind donations or sold tickets and merchandise, among other things.

Club member Meg Landsburgh said the whole experience has taught her most about the power of speaking up. She thinks that even when people know about an issue, they need an extra push to do something about it.

“People don’t do anything until someone they know said something,” she said.