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Cottonwood Heights Journal

Local high schools pool together to help area families, International Rescue Committee

Feb 01, 2021 11:45AM ● By Julie Slama

Scheels donated $500 to each school—Brighton, Hillcrest and Jordan—to help the high schools raise more than $35,000 to help local families and give to the International Rescue Committee. (Photo courtesy of Shannon Hurst/Hillcrest High)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

Every year, many area high school students decide on a charity or nonprofit organization to help or raise funds for during the month leading up to the winter break.

This year, three local high schools—Brighton, Hillcrest and Jordan—collaborated to bring awareness and raise more than $35,000 together for the International Rescue Committee. 

IRC in Salt Lake City helps people whose lives and livelihoods are shattered by conflict and disaster to survive, recover and regain control of their future, said Jesse Sheets, IRC development manager, who added that since 1994, when IRC opened in Salt Lake City, they have helped more than 12,000 individuals.

“We are grateful for any student-led initiatives, including the effort of Hillcrest High School in collaboration with Jordan High School and Brighton High School,” Sheets said. “Student-led fundraisers bring together large, diverse student bodies and their communities, unified behind a focused effort to raise awareness of refugee resettlement in Utah as well as raise vital funds in support of over 20 programs and services offered by the IRC in Salt Lake City and in direct support of the more than 2,100 refugees, asylees, immigrants and new Americans we serve each year.”

Brighton studentbody president Will Rahaniotis said that Brighton jumped at the opportunity to join forces when invited by Hillcrest and Jordan.

“In my three years of high school, so far we’ve helped with the Tyler Robinson Foundation, Make-A-Wish, and the Utah Refugee Connection so this was a good opportunity to mix it up and reach out to help others,” he said.

Early in their efforts, a $500 donation to each of the three schools came from Scheels.

Jordan High studentbody president Brooklyn Wagner said that it was Scheels who contacted the high school students.

“It was generous of them to contact us,” she said. “It’s pretty cool that we all came together to raise money for the IRC.”

While the schools worked together and pooled their donations, because of the need to social distance and not mix students from schools during COVID-19, each high school held their own activities independently, with the exception of several area businesses holding fundraiser nights, earmarking a portion of the proceeds to go to the campaign.

“We were able to hold class competitions, and we passed out fliers to have the community support our silent auction or make a straight donation by scanning a QR code that lead them to a donation link,” Rahaniotis said.

The items in the silent auction baskets included donations such as BYU memorabilia, a record player, skin care and Cotopaxi items, a photo shoot, amongst others.

Some traditional activities and in-person assemblies weren’t allowed as the student leaders followed the COVID-19 safety and health guidelines.

“It means a lot to help others any way we can, especially this year during a year of a worldwide pandemic with natural disasters and a need for humanitarian help,” he said. “I think if we all just think of seeing someone’s face react when they’re handed a check or something they need, that gives a lot of meaning to this.”

Rahaniotis said that although the student leaders of all three schools had wanted to do joint activities, those ideas could be held during a non-COVID pandemic year.

Hillcrest studentbody president Max Lapore said they started their plans then positive COVID-19 pandemic cases soared by mid-November.

“We wanted to hold activities together, but this year has just been crazy,” he said. “We’d talk and they’d be shut down because of a high count of COVID cases and then when their high schools opened, we were closed for the same reason.”

While some funds were earmarked to help families in need in the school communities, Lapore said the IRC also serves families in the Hillcrest community.

“We have a lot of refugees in the Hillcrest community and we were able to share with our studentbody how they have benefited from the IRC and how it changes their lives,” he said. “I like the idea of sharing and working together with the other schools on a charity. It’s a hard time with so many people struggling financially, mentally, emotionally and we know for those who can serve and give, it’s a great thing they can do in today’s world.”

Rahaniotis agreed: “It made sense for us to try to raise funds and spread awareness together, to help people, than for us to just have three smaller fundraisers.”

Nearby Alta High and Corner Canyon High also held fundraisers to help children’s wishes be granted through the Make-A-Wish foundation. Cottonwood High held events to raise funds to help stock their school pantry and Murray High fundraised to help the YWCA shelter.