tampabay.com

Leading a nation's response

By JARED LEONE
Published May 21, 2007


Some pies were shaped like the mathematical symbol for pi. Others came in chocolate, key lime or apple-cranberry. Still others had messages on them.

But regardless of color, flavor or decoration, they were part of a common cause - to raise money for refugees fleeing genocide half a world away.

That creative bake sale helped students at Clearwater Central Catholic High School raise more than $9,400 for the nonprofit Save Darfur Coalition.

More than 2,000 schools nationwide participated in the Dollars for Darfur fundraiser, but only two of them raised more than CCC.

For that, student organizers from CCC have won a trip to Washington, D.C., to meet Rep. C.W. Bill Young and Darfur advocates.

"The Save Darfur Coalition was overwhelmed by the kind, selfless response and the overall humanity of the students who participated," said Allyn Brooks-LaSure, spokesman from Save Darfur Coalition based in Washington, D.C.

"Our ultimate goal is so we don't have to have Dollars for Darfur, that the genocide will be over," he said.

Before launching the drive at CCC, junior Christine Ochsner said she didn't know a lot about Darfur - a region south of Egypt where more than 200,000 people have been slaughtered since 2003. Another 2.5-million have been forced from their homes.

Ochsner helped organize the campaign at CCC after learning about the drive from Nick Anderson, a friend in Massachusetts who organized the Dollars for Darfur project.

Her goal was to raise $5,000, and she was skeptical about her prospects.

"When we finished out at $9,468, I was just overwhelmed," said Ochsner, 17, of Clearwater. "It was so powerful to see all these kids wanting to do some thing to help."

Students raised money in a variety of ways.

Cafeteria workers helped cook a reminder meal of rice, bread and water instead of the regular lunch. Students donated their lunch money for the less-appetizing fare to remember the conditions that Darfur refugees face daily.

There was a student vs. teacher arm wrestling competition and bracelet and T-shirt sales. Because of the dress codes at the parochial school, the green shirts really stood out, Ochsner said.

The money was raised for the Dollars for Darfur campaign, a grass roots effort started by high schoolers using online networking sites like MySpace and Facebook. Half of the money raised will pay for humanitarian efforts and the other half will pay for advocacy efforts of the Save Darfur Coalition.

The Save Darfur Coalition is made up of more than 180 faith-based groups working to raise awareness about the conflict in Darfur.

Ochsner said this was the first time she has taken action about something.

"It was stressful at times but it was very rewarding how we helped so many people," she said. "It's kind of opened my eyes to directing my life to service of others. Just because it's such a rewarding feeling - that anything can be done."

Fast Facts:

About Darfur

The region: Darfur is an area of western Sudan, a nation of 40-million people.

The war: Since 2003, the population has been caught in deadly fighting between ethnic African rebels and the Arab-led Sudanese army and pro-government janjaweed militiamen.

Killed: More than 200,000

Refugees: 2.5-million

At a glance

The top five

The leading fundraisers in the Dollars for Darfur drive:

1. Northfield Mount Hermon School, Gill, Ma., $15,412

2. Wyoming High School, Cincinnati, $14,300

3. Clearwater Central Catholic High School, $9,468

4. Lenox High School, Lenox, Ma., $8,173

5. Mill River NHS, North Clarendon, Vt., $7,161

To learn more: www.savedarfur.org.