Students raise money for Sri Lankan school

ARLINGTON —Sean Welch helped himself by helping others.

The Arlington High School junior was searching for a way to fit in when he heard about Key Club, wondering what the fascination was with keys, before learning it was an international student-run service organization.

The junior and 15 classmates who make up his school’s Key Club want to raise $8,500 to build a new one-room schoolhouse in Sri Lanka. Forty schools were destroyed by the 2004 tsunami that killed 35,000 Sri Lankans, displaced 440,000 more and wiped out 50 homes.

“I really didn’t know where I fit in,” Welch said. “I really wanted to be involved in the school more and I wanted to be involved in the community a lot more.

Key clubs are part of Kiwanis International, a global organization of volunteers. There are about 5,000 Key clubs in high schools, mainly in the United States and Canada.

“Once I got into Key Club, I just loved it,” said Welch, who is now the group’s president. “Even though we’re a small club, we can have a big impact.”

But Sri Lanka?

Kristine Copenhaver, their adviser and the high school’s librarian, went through a long list of potential fundraiser recipients with students last year. All were worthy, but students were sold on the idea of providing educational opportunity in areas where it would be particularly valued.

They chose the island off the southern tip of India that has endured decades of civil conflict between the Tamil and Sinhalese people. The Arlington students say the tsunami is a distant memory for most Americans, but the need to help remains great today.

The teenagers also feel fortunate to attend a large modern campus and figure they can spend two years trying to gather the money to build a small school of mud brick that would serve a coastal village.

So far, they have banked about $2,000 through sales of kettle corn, a silent auction, bake sales and a coin drive. They hope to have the rest by June 2010. They recently took their cause to the Arlington School Board, hoping to spread the word about their mission.

Melania Baublitz, a junior who serves as vice president of the school’s Key Club, thinks locally as well as globally. She volunteers at a community food bank, but the idea of helping kids lacking what many American students take for granted appealed to her.

“A lot of people around the world don’t have anywhere near the resources we have here,” she said. “This is something we should be doing.”

The Arlington Key Club is working with the Canadian-based Free The Children organization, which argues that education is the best way to break the cycle of poverty. Today, there are more than 500 Free The Children schools serving about 50,000 students around the world.

Copenhaver said she believes her students will add one more school to that total.

“These kiddos are just so committed,” she said. “Our group of 16 works hard and they will do what it takes to build that school.”

Reporter Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446 or

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