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A Little Magic Goes a Long Way

February 15, 2005

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    Photo: Laura Guimond/Mercy Corps Photo:

Eight-year-old Drew Donaldson spent much of January practicing a trick that appeared to transform a dollar bill into a blank piece of paper. But truly amazing was how his magic show, along with hundreds of other individual and small-group fundraisers organized by students of The Country School in Easton, Maryland, raised more than $25,000 for Mercy Corps’ tsunami-relief efforts.

The school-wide effort started just days after the devastating tsunami that killed more than 200,000 people and left hundreds of thousands more in Southeast Asia without shelter and basic necessities. Headmaster Neil Mufson whisked an email to faculty and staff asking for suggestions on how to involve parents, teachers and students at The Country School, a private K-8 school with about 300 students, in a meaningful fundraising effort.

A group of seven or eight employees got together to brainstorm ideas. They decided to send students home with a pledge card to fill out with their families that asked how much money they would contribute and how they would raise the funds, said Cindy Orban, the school’s librarian.

The group also decided to make Mercy Corps the beneficiary of its efforts. They were impressed by its efficient operation, its commitment to helping children and the positive experience of two Country School teachers who had organized a giving campaign to Mercy Corps for the children of Afghanistan in the aftermath of 9/11. “We wanted to find an agency doing work with children, because it made it more meaningful for kids to feel they were helping other children directly,” said Orban.

Parents were encouraged to talk to their children about the tsunami and the need it created, and were given the opportunity to match their child’s contribution.

Drew’s mom, Julie Donaldson, whose two other children also attend The Country School, said the project gave the family an opportunity to discuss the tragedy and what they could do to help. “We talked about how devastating it must have been and how incredibly sad it is that people lost their homes, and what we could do in some small way,” she said.

As part of the school’s fundraising effort, Donaldson’s 10-year-old daughter, Kate, sewed fleece pillows and sold them at various community events. She raised about $40. Her 6-year-old son, Jack, did household chores. And 8-year-old Drew teamed with two other students to hold a magic show. They netted more than $100 by selling cookies and charging $8 admission to about a dozen family and friends who watched five magic tricks interspersed with original jokes and even some acrobatics. “We did it for the tsunami victims that don’t have food or water or a house,” Drew said.

All told, the students pledged to raise $17,000 over a four-week period by engaging in a wide range of creative fundraising projects. In addition to the Donaldsons’ projects, students opened hot-chocolate stands, made glass-beaded bracelets, held bake sales, babysat and washed the family guinea pig. The youngest students stuck mainly to household chores, said Orban. “There was a healthy mix of creative entrepreneurial spirit and more mundane but profitable ideas.”

A huge map of South Asia in the main hallway kept students attention focused on the effort and charted the fundraising progress. Titled “Make Asia Green Again” – a reference to before-and-after aerial photos that showed previously foliage-filled areas now brown with mud and debris - the map depicted each country in green except for its storm-affected coastal areas, which were left white. Affixed to the map were the students’ pledge cards, and horizontal lines across the map marked how much money had been raised.

With only a few days to go before the school’s self-imposed February 5 deadline, donations were $10,000 short of the pledge. But a last-minute influx of envelopes and plastic bags with checks, cash and coins pushed the total to $25,372.90, including one $5,000 donation made directly from one family to Mercy Corps.

Although The Country School is no stranger to community service - last summer they held a donation drive for used books to give to a school in Kenya - Orban said this effort was especially gratifying for her because it required parents and their kids to collaborate.

“As stunning as the amount is, to have parents and kids talk about kids in desperate need, and find an organization that can help them, and have parents and kids work together to raise the money made it that much more meaningful,” she said.

At an all-school assembly on February 9, Headmaster Mufson congratulated the students and told them about Mercy Corps’ work to rebuild schools and provide emotional support to children in the tsunami-affected regions.

Drew said he enjoyed his part in the assembly - helping hold up the oversized check the school had made out to Mercy Corps - and his role in the relief effort. “We got to help all the people who didn’t have a house,” he said.