When she was in eighth grade, Natalie Hamilton was involved in a service project, painting toy cars to send to the children of Africa. "We were told those might be the first toys those kids had ever had. That was the first time I really thought about Africa."
Last year, as a sophomore at Olympus High School in Mr. Phillips' world history class, she studied Africa. "I learned about the poverty. And about how education was especially needed. So much can be helped by education."
Then over the summer she attended the Governor's Honors Academy at Southern Utah University and met a student from Lone Peak High School who shared a similar interest and concern for Africa. They began investigating and found out about AfricAid, a nonprofit organization that provides educational opportunities and supplies to needy students on the African continent.
Hamilton had found a cause she wanted to support. What excited her even more was the fact that AfricAid was started by a young Colorado student who also had a dream of helping. In 1996 Ashley Schuyler, then 11, went on a safari to Kenya and Tanzania and saw real poverty for the first time.
In her mission statement for the group, she notes that it "made her realize how fortunate we in America are and that what we often take for granted here is out of reach for so many Africans, beginning with an education."
Four years later, Schuyler incorporated AfricAid as a nonprofit corporation, and in early 2001, it received 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status from the Internal Revenue Service.
Hamilton e-mailed Schuyler, who suggested she could start a club at her school to support AfricAid. Hamilton talked to her principal, wrote up a club charter and recruited some 80 students to be members.
Since last fall, they have raised more than $1,000 in money and supplies. Their biggest fund-raiser of the year will occur Saturday, when new-age pianist Paul Cardall, an Olympus High graduate, puts on a benefit concert at the school.
At a recent club meeting finalizing the details for the concert, members of the concert committee talked about the club and what it has meant to them.
"I've always liked to help people, and this is a great opportunity to help," said club vice president Jennifer Hutchins.
"I think of how we often don't like school, or we take it for granted," said Jacque Roberts. "And how those girls would love to go to school."
Josh Allred admitted "I kind of got dragged into the club" by his friends, "but it's pretty cool. We've done a lot to help."
"I used to talk with my friends about the way things should be," said Lea Welch. "But now I'm not just talking, I'm doing something."
The club has sponsored activities and projects that have not only raised money for the group but have helped the community as well. For example, when the school play was on, they provided a baby-sitting service so parents could attend the play. That didn't go as well as they hoped, admitted Hamilton, "because not many people knew about it." They learned a lot about what they need to do to spread the word.
More successful was a community service project where club members offered to rake leaves, do household chores, shovel mud or any other clean-up that was needed in exchange for a $5 donation to the club. They netted more than $250 on that one.
They made beanies and duct-tape wallets to sell. They have collected school supplies, and in May are planning a carwash.
"We've learned that when we work together, we make an impact," said Hamilton. "We have so much to give. But as we've helped children in Africa, we've helped students at Olympus, too."
Jameson Veit agreed. "It's helped our people skills. As we've gone out to deliver fliers or do projects, we've had to talk to people." Before this club, he said, "I was really conceited. I had been focused on myself and my family. This has helped me focus on people outside my box. My family is fine. I want to focus on someone who needs help."
Since founding AfricAid, Schuyler has gone on to study at Harvard. "So that's where her dream has taken her," said Hamilton. Where Hamilton's dream will end, she doesn't know. As a junior this year, she plans to continue working with the club next year. Some day she would like to visit Africa.
For now, she's learned some valuable lessons. "It's a great thing to get people working together. Together, there's a lot we can do."
If you go
What: Benefit concert for AfricAid
When: Saturday, 7 p.m.
Where: Olympus High School, 4055 S. 2300 East
How much: $9 adults, $7 students
Also: A Giving Tree will encourage further donations, from $7 for pencils to $450 for scholarships.