Walla Walla High School students rally for Haiti relief

Students in leadership and social studies classes have spearheaded a broad and growing effort to help out.

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Walla Walla High School teacher Jillian DeBritz crowds around a table with the phones group of her freshman class to listen in as Seth Hall (second from right) attempts to call Terry Hackney, director of the Blue Mountain chapter of the American Red Cross. The students were hoping to find out about what donated items could be sent to Haiti for earthquake relief and how to send them through the Red Cross.

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Walla Walla High School student Courtney Griggs (right) models a butcher paper t-shirt for three of her friends as they work to hang posters advertising fund-raising efforts for the school's "Hope for Haiti" effort organized by all of teacher Jillian DeBritz's classes.

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Walla Walla High School teacher Jillian DeBritz talks with her ASB leadership class about their "Hope for Haiti Action Plan" on Wednesday morning. The plan involves all of DeBritz's classes and includes fund-raising, a dance, t-shirt sales, a silent auction, and even the possibility of a concert.

WALLA WALLA -- They may be thousands of miles away, but students at Walla Walla High School have mobilized a campus-wide effort to support victims of Haiti's deadly earthquake.

There has been so much momentum at the campus recently that hundreds of students are now involved -- either by directly coordinating activities or by donating cash or goods to support the cause. There is a coin drive going on at the school, as well as a drive to collect goods or supplies. Donation bins and collection envelopes were distributed throughout classes in the school.

And now, those efforts are reaching the greater community, with the hope of going even further.

Wa-Hi's "Hope for Haiti" benefit drive will be raising funds during Saturday's basketball games through a silent auction, T-shirts sales and an after-game dance for high school students.

The activities -- from the coin drive to the silent auction and dance -- have been brainstormed and executed by students in Jillian DeBritz's leadership and social studies classes. The ideas started through an ASB initiative in one class period, but quickly spread to include students in DeBritz's other classes.

To date, there have been nearly 200 students from five classes volunteering in the fundraising effort by giving ideas, offering to make posters, or researching aid organizations.

"We just want to create as many opportunities as possible to get involved," DeBritz said.

The teens are hoping to reach local businesses who may want to donate items for the silent auction, to help with the cost of shipping supplies or who are open to posters or donation boxes placed at their establishments.

Senior Audrey Smith, 18, said she and her classmates knew right away they wanted to help with the Haiti relief. So the ASB members abandoned their traditional school activity planning to focus on Haiti relief. And they started small, such as with the coin drive. But ideas kept coming, and the project grew.

"Pretty soon we have this big thing that everyone wants to be a part of," she said.

Reaching out beyond the school was part of the growth.

"I think it's really cool to involve the community," said Shelby Osborn, 16. She noted that one student's family donated T-shirts that will be sold during the Saturday game.

And one lesson of the drive may be that even a small gesture, like giving up spare change, or buying a T-shirt, can still make a difference.

"A lot of people don't know how to help, and buying a T-shirt is really easy," Smith said as an example.

Smith said many Wa-Hi students have given openly and freely. Smith and Osborn recalled one student who gave a $20 bill, and another who donated all her work tips.

But the drive doesn't end there. One group of students is putting together a video with the goal of sharing it on YouTube and inspiring others to start a "just do something now" campaign.

And as ideas have grown, still others are thinking bigger. Which is why DeBritz left a message for Oprah's agent Tuesday, and sent an e-mail to George Clooney's representative on Wednesday.

A benefit concert has been thought up, with the goal of reaching well-known musicians. And from these ideas and outreach efforts has been born another class motto, DeBritz's said: "The worst they can say is no!'"

But the students' mobilizing and working together to make things happen is what has impressed DeBritz the most.

"I've never been more excited about something in education," she said.

Maria P. Gonzalez can be reached at mariagonzalez@wwub.com or 526-8317. Check out her blog at blogs.ublabs.org/schoolhousemissives.

About Wa-Hi's "Hope for Haiti" drive

A silent auction is being held from 5-7 p.m. Saturday. Items will be on display in the Wa-Hi Commons prior to the girls' basketball game. T-shirts with the "Hope for Haiti" slogan will be on sale during the game for $12.

The fundraiser also includes a student dance, "Hustle for Haiti," open to local high school students. The dance will be held in the Wa-Hi Commons from 9-11 p.m. Saturday. Cost is $3 with ASB and $5 with student ID. Proceeds from all fundraisers will be donated to UNICEF for direct relief in Haiti.

For more information or to make a donation, contact Jillian DeBritz at 526-8659 or by e-mail at wwhs_asb@wwps.org.

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