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The City Journals

Paradigm students support Operation Underground Railroad, contribute $25K

Jun 10, 2021 02:04PM ● By Julie Slama

Paradigm High seniors Kayla Hansen and Mckinley Thygerson show the money they collected for Operation Underground Railroad, their school’s fundraiser which raised $25,187. (Photo courtesy of Kayla Hansen/Paradigm High)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

Students smashed whipped cream-topped tuna pies in their classmates’ faces. They held planks above egg until their arms gave out, smashing yolks and whites all over their shirts. They drank some sort of concoction of pickle juice with grossed-out reactions. 

It was a fun celebration as a result of raising $25,187 in a month-long spring fundraising effort to support Operation Underground Railroad, an organization that has been dedicated to rescue children from sex trafficking and sexual exploitation since 2013.

“We had a conservative goal of $15,000 because we weren’t sure how people would respond during COVID-19,” said Paradigm teacher/mentor and student government adviser Keith Debono, who added that one eighth-grade student brought in close to $1,200 on his own. “I was just blown away by the effort of the students and the support of our community.”

As a result of surpassing that goal, school director Fernando Seminario promised to “live in a fishbowl” or a glass conference room during a week in May. Student government boys were to wear ringlets from permanents in their hair and sport 2-inch fake nails as part of the fun.

About 380 Paradigm High students, or scholars as they’re called, exceeded last year’s record of $21,000, which was donated to Australia’s recovery efforts from their bush fires that destroyed an area the size of North Dakota.

“The scholar cabinet with its congress picked a charity that affects them,” Debono said. “The students realize the seriousness of the situation and can relate to them statically as some of the kids taken are in this same age group. It’s a sensitive and serious issue that inspired them and more kids embraced and got behind this effort.”

Sophomore Glori Huff said it was an issue she and her classmates are passionate about.

“Having kids our age not get to live a life we do — to smile, to know joys and happiness — to be stuck in a cage and not have freedom and love is wrong; we have to do something,” she said.

Huff said her grandmother was snatched up at age seven when she was walking her dog in Nevada.  She wasn’t rescued in Arizona until she had doubled her age.

“She doesn’t talk much about it, but she started crying tears of joy when I told her what we were doing and how much was raised,” Huff said.

The scholars competed in their seminar classes, two rooms on a team. Debono’s B3/4 and Jennifer Lattin’s B1/2 raised $6,685.56 as the winning alliance, but everyone did their part, class president Jill Smith said.

“A lot of us text our family and friends,” she said. “Harmons allowed us to fundraise at their store, so we educated people about Operation Underground Railroad, answered their questions and they gave generously.”

Smith, who had 3-foot-long hair, cut 20 inches off her hair and sold it for $200, which she donated. 

“It was fun to watch the class come together,” she said. “Every child deserves the right to lead a safe life, to be safe at home. This is raising awareness and giving to help those kids. We’re a small school so this is so rewarding.”

Huff agreed: “It felt like we were a family this year. We all did about everything to raise funds.”

Huff sold her charcoal and watercolor drawings of pets and caricatures to donate $250 to the cause. Her younger sister went door-to-door and also raised about $150 at a nearby Smith’s from donations.

The school also held various events such as a comedy night, a performing arts concert, a telethon, a slip-and-slide party, a carnival, a Sadie Hawkins dance, and  penny wars. Even the library donated its fines to the cause.

Senior Josie Hall said that every year, “it gets better, and we become more dedicated. It’s become a part of who we are as Paradigm Patriots and it goes to good causes every year.”

Her class set up a GoFundMe page on social media to bring in $1,000.  They spent four hours walking around the neighborhood after baking cookies to sell them or ask for donations.

“One person bought one dozen for $50. They just wanted to donate whatever they had and ask how they could help,” she said. “I was surprised how generous people were. We went to some houses and they said to come back because they didn’t have cash; in the meantime, they went to the bank to get some money to donate.”

This was the first time Hall had heard about the plight of Operation Underground Railroad children.

“I’m so empathetic. I struggled with this when I heard about it,” she said. “I realized how good my life is with my loving family and ability to have an education. I learned how these regular children leading regular lives are abused and mistreated so badly. I had to support them. I want everyone to have what I have.”