By Laura McAlister
Thanks to the leadership of a few Vestavia Hills High School students, children in Africa are one step closer to getting a new school, and the Juvenile Arthritis Foundation will receive more much-needed funds for education and research.
During the first semester of the school year, the VHHS Student Government Association raised money for two charities – the Juvenile Arthritis Foundation and the Sikuzu Community School in Zambia, Africa.
Through various activities throughout the semester, the SGA raised more than $20,000 for the two charities. During a recent school-wide assembly, the group presented each with a check for $10,000.
“This is just really neat, because the students are the ones who organize all this,” said teacher and SGA co-sponsor Jennifer Carson. “They decide on the charities at the first of the year. They do all the work.”
At the beginning of the school year, several charities met before the SGA, which consists of officers and representatives from each grade. Members then voted on which charity to support during the fall semester.
In past years, the SGA picked only one charity. This year, however, two had such close ties to home that the vote was split. The group decided to raise money for both.
Christian Smith, a ninth grader at the school, has juvenile arthritis and spoke to the SGA about the challenges of the disease. VHHS teacher Lauren Dressback talked with the students about the Sikuzu Community School, which her father, Greg Jeane, helped plan and construct.
“I think that’s why the vote was so close,” said SGA president Callie Barganier. “We had a teacher and then Christian.”
The Juvenile Arthritis Foundation strives to reduce the impact of arthritis on the some 5,000 children in Alabama it affects through education, programs and research.
The Sikuzu Community School will open this year and provide a nearby school for elementary age students. The children have had to walk five miles to the nearest primary school.
While the SGA chose the charities, the entire school body pitched in to raise money for both the organizations.
Through fun activities like the girls’ powder puff game, the boys’ homecoming king contest and the Barbecue the Bucs Cook Off, the school raised a record amount.
“We also have a talent show,” said Riley Logsdon, SGA chaplain. “We do that during school, and it’s $5 to go. They get to get out of class, and the money goes to a good cause.”
Alex Vogt, the SGA boys’ vice president, said the events are meant to be fun and also bring together students and the community.
“We take donations at football games, so it really is the whole community making it happen,” he said. “We’re not only raising money, but it’s memories, too.”
Though the logistics of hosting the fundraisers can get “stressful,” Callie said, it’s all worth it when they’re able to present the checks to the charities.
This year, Greg Jeane and representatives from the Juvenile Arthritis Foundation came to the assembly to receive the donations and to thank the SGA and the student body for their hard work.
“It’s just really amazing to see the reactions,” said SGA co-sponsor Beth Waltson. “It’s just really so amazing what this group and the whole school does, and this was just the fall semester.”
This semester, the students will tackle a different fundraiser – Relay for Life. Although it will be the major fundraiser for the spring semester, just like in the fall, it won’t be the only one.
Throughout the year, the SGA has canned food drives and responds to different needs in the community, including those caused by the recent tornadoes.