Middle schoolers raise money for Red Cross

'We didn’t know if it would work'
Chloe Lephart, 13, and Jenna Semione, 13.
Chloe Lephart, 13, and Jenna Semione, 13.

Categories: News, Schenectady County

NISKAYUNA — Two eighth graders raised nearly $1,800 for people they’ve never even met.

Chloe Lephart and Jenna Semione, both 13, were hanging out over the summer when news of hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria crashed wave on wave across television screens. 

Touched by the images of people in Puerto Rico, Houston and elsewhere in need of the most basic necessities, Lephart and Semione decided to do something to help. They approached Van Antwerp Middle School counselor Meghan McCarthy about raising money. 

RELATED: Displaced Puerto Rican students settle in Amsterdam, Schenectady

They hosted events throughout the late fall and by the end of December they had raised $1787.99.

“I felt proud (of how much we raised),” Semione said. “We didn’t know if it would work.”

But it did. They set out to raise only $1,000 so they were pleased to be able to donate more. Their donation, along with others from the Eastern New York region, which includes the Capital Region topped $1 million.

The region includes 24 counties and in total, 115 staff and volunteers deployed in August and September to Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. More recently, others went to Southern California to give aid to those affected by wildfires.

“We had a huge influx of new volunteers in light of the number of storms,” said Kimmy Venter, director of communications for the American Red Cross, Eastern New York Region. “A lot of those volunteers are now getting involved locally.”

Venter said that whether people donate money or time, the organization’s efforts are primarily focused on getting disaster victims what they need in the immediate aftermath.

“We are working to meet basic humanitarian needs,” Venter said. She went on to say that money not only helps provide overnight shelters, but meals and snacks for victims in those shelters as well as those who did not seek refuge and are still in their damaged or destroyed neighborhoods. The American Red Cross also provides relief supplies, cleaning products, bug spray and mosquito nets.

“We meet immediate needs for safety and necessities,” Venter said.

It was the images of people without basic needs that prompted Lephart and Semione to action. Lephart had been to the Caribbean where she met two brothers who had worked hard to build a charter boat which was damaged in the storm.

“They saved all their lives to build the boat and it was destroyed,” Lephart said. 

Semione was taken aback by the scope of the devastation.

“Seeing the news over and over. It wasn’t just one. All the homes were destroyed,” she said.

The two friends spent hours finding ideas to raise money. They decided to host a movie night and ask fellow students to donate a few dollars to watch. Lephart and Semione encouraged their peers to vote on which movie they would show. 

The middle school population voted to watch “The Jungle Book” but on the night of the fundraiser, only 15 students came. The girls were disappointed, but didn’t give up. The shifted their efforts and held a bake sale and snack sale using the food that had been donated to the movie night. 

They also sold Pura Vida bracelets. Pura Vida bracelets are made of thin, colorful, string material. The company was started as a joint venture between Costa Rican artisans and San Diego residents. The bracelets are low cost and, thanks to working through Pura Vida’s fundraising channel, Lephart and Semione sold out and raised $150.

The girls’ Girl Scout troop, Troop 2593, donated almost $400 toward their efforts.

Lephart and Semione credit their parents with pushing them to continue their efforts despite a disappointing start. Lephart’s mother launched an email campaign while Semione’s parents encouraged them to come up with different ways to reach their goal.

At the end they were glad they persevered and are glad to be able to help others.

“It feels good,” Lephart said. “We want to do another fundraiser soon. We want to help others, not get attention for ourselves.”

Even if calls for emergency supplies and services have slowed, the work of the American Red Cross goes on and Venter said donations of time and money are always needed.

“People across the Capital Region have been incredibly generous in the wake of these unprecedented, back-to-back-to-back disasters,” Venter said.

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