Reminder Assistant Editor
HOLYOKE Oprah Winfrey has a reputation for being a friendly, talkative and enthusiastic philanthropist. A group from John J. Lynch Middle School is looking to further her spirit with their work in the O Ambassadors program.
O Ambassadors is an exciting new joint project of Oprah's Angel Network and Free The Children that will inspire young people to become active, compassionate and knowledgeable global citizens, according to the program's Web site (www.oambassadors.org). The program connects young people in North America with people around the world to create lasting change by working toward the UN Millennium Development Goals. Participants address problems such as hunger, poverty and limited access to education.
Five students from Lynch Brittany Morin, Nicholas Allende, Sebastian Dybecki, Raven Torres and Allison Little will be traveling to Tanzania, Africa, to help a village there attain these goals but the group needs local support to help them reach their fundraising goals to go on the journey.
"We feel so privileged to have been selected [as an O Ambassador school]," Lori Vaillancourt, a teacher and advisor of the Lynch Middle School O Ambassador Club, Helping Hands, said. "Only 1,000 schools from North America were chosen."
Her co-advisor is fellow teacher Kara Lunden, and Vaillancourt said she is "very thankful to Kara for starting this" program. Lunden is the one who applied to O Ambassadors to make Lynch an official O Ambassadors school.
Helping Hands hosted a winter warmth drive this past winter, collecting winter clothing for those in need, raised money to help build a school in China and hosted a community clean up. The students involved are all volunteers.
"The most exciting part [of their work] is the opportunity to go to Africa," Vaillancourt said. She explained that during their three-week visit, the students will be building a school, working on a clean water project, learning Swahili, getting to know local children and will be exploring the land and local culture.
"Our kids have a limited knowledge of the world," Vaillancourt stated. "The poverty and the culture will be an eye-opening experience for them."
Each student received a $3,500 scholarship for the trip from the O Ambassadors program, but they need to individually come up with an additional $1,500 to cover the entire cost of their trip. Fundraisers have been taking place but haven't had the turnout the group was hoping for, Vaillancourt said.
Cheryl Rud, Morin's mother, has been helping out with the fundraising and the preparation for the students' journey. She's solicited various businesses for donations and brought the students to get the required shots (for yellow fever, hepatitis A, meningitis and typhoid). She'll be driving the students to Toronto, Canada, for their flight to Africa.
"This is very important for the kids," Rud said. "It will show them the true meaning of the way people live. Not everyone has iPods and computers."
Lynch Middle School hosted a three-on-three student basketball tournament last Thursday which raised $120 for the trip. Seventy-two players competed fiercely for the wins, with some showing almost unnatural skills for middle schoolers.
Allende and Dybecki played on a team together in the tournament. When asked why they originally joined Helping Hands, Allende said, "I wanted to help other people in the community and around the world."
Dybecki said their trip to Africa would help him see a new perspective of the world.
"I'm ready to learn how people are different," Morin added. "I'm expecting a really big difference. I'm all nervous about going." This will be her first time leaving the country.
The graduating eighth graders will be leaving on their O Ambassador mission on June 20. Donations for their trip will be accepted up to that date. If interested in donating, contact Lynch Middle School at 534-2050 and ask for Kara or Lori.
"This is an experience most Holyoke eighth graders have never, ever had," Vaillancourt said.