West Virginia High School Students Help With Disaster Relief

By JENNI VINCENT, The Journal | December 18, 2014

Martinsburg High School junior Camila Taylor-Perotti may have a broader perspective since she grew up in a military family, and has seen some of the problems faced by people in other countries – experiences that only heighten her desire to help.

“You just never know how fast things can change when there is something like a natural disaster, until you see it for yourself. Your home can be gone in just a minute or two,” she said, shaking her head at the memory of an earthquake she’d experienced in Japan.

“That’s why it is so important for people to be as ready as they can be, and for others to also help out,” she said.

But Taylor-Perotti isn’t alone in wanting to make a difference, and has plenty in common with approximately 40 fellow students who also participate in the school’s Interact Club – a Rotary offshoot that provides community service opportunities for young adults.

Tina Roach, a Martinsburg Sunrise Rotary member, meets each week with club members and art teacher/club adviser Elaine Unnone – despite the fact it means being at the school early since the meetings begin at 7 a.m.

“But just being with these kids, seeing how much they care and watching them come out week to week to help make a difference is why it means so much to me to keep coming back too,” Roach said with a smile, watching as students eagerly filed into the art room.

Although they are active throughout the year, club members are now especially excited about having successfully raised $1,000 for ShelterBox, a nonprofit organization that helps disaster victims globally, said secretary Vinny Powell.

“It really is exciting because we thought about doing it last year, but didn’t have enough members to get it off the ground. But that’s changed,” he said, adding that the group tries to do at least one international project annually.

This donation means a specially equipped container will be available to be sent wherever there is a natural or humanitarian crisis, he said.

Students got to see the contents up close and in person earlier this fall when organization representatives brought a ShelterBox to the school and set it up in the gym.

Contents typically include a disaster relief tent for a family, thermal blankets and groundsheets, water storage and purification equipment, solar lamps, cooking utensils, a basic tool kit, mosquito nets and children’s activity pack.

The goal is to provide “essentials people need to survive and begin to rebuild their lives in the aftermath of a disaster,” according to the website.

“Since ShelterBox was founded (in 2000), we have responded to over 240 disasters and humanitarian crises in more than 90 different countries and provided emergency aid for well over one million people,” it reads.

Junior Tyler Richards successfully suggested a T-shirt fundraiser that was based on receiving donations/sponsorships from local businesses and owners. “We took this idea to Rotary, where it really just took off and in the end we got a lot of support from everybody,” he said.

For example, sophomore Tara Scott said her father, Jim, who owns RMS (a shredding business) and is a Sunrise Rotary member, donated to the project. Other donors include David Decker (Decker and Company), P.J. Orsini (Orsini’s Appliances), Dan Dulyea, John Fanning and Arndt McBee Insurance.

Junior Brady Hoffmaster said he’d been impressed with how much assistance is provided in the box, adding, “I thought it was cool there was even a stove so they can actually cook. And the ShelterBox can actually be separated into separate rooms so family members can have some space for themselves.”

This experience also touched junior Kris Young, who said he values his own life even more now.

“It really has made me think about how fortunate I am, plus I also really like being able to give back to the community. I hope we can keep up doing this next year,” Young said.

Senior Eric Mitchell, who plans to go into pharmacy, pre-med or engineering in college, agreed the project was worth all the time – and money.

“It is amazing to think we will be able to help a family who is in need, maybe across the world or someone in the United States. It really makes you think about your priorities in a time like that, and I know family would be mine,” he said.

Other Interact officers include president Patrick Roach, vice president Emily Mulholland and treasurer Owen Hamilton. A video showing the ShelterBox visit at MHS can be found at http://youtu.be/wLwdxPQ3WxA .

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