By Devlin Smith
Annika Wooton, a 13-year-old living in Richmond, Virginia, has inspired parishioners at her church and members of her community to donate the change in their purses and pockets to the African Well Fund. Helped by the graphics and slogans her mom Cathryn created, Annika's shown how "spare change spares lives."
Annika hopes to raise $10,000 for the African Well Fund and is nearly a third of the way to her goal. She and her mom talked about this fundraiser and the difference individuals can make in the world.
Annika, how did you get interested in raising money for Africa?
My youth pastor just barely mentioned the idea during youth group one night, so I asked him about it and he told me to look up [the African Well Fund] Web site. That's where it all began.
Why did you want to focus specifically on water?
It's a big impact on the world. A lot of things run or are made with the main ingredient of water. Also, getting fresh water truly keeps you alive and healthy. To hear that 3,000 children die every morning just because they don't have fresh water really bothered me, especially because I can go to my refrigerator whenever I want to and get a glass. It all comes so easy to people in the U.S. but what we don't realize is that the majority of the world doesn't have that kind of luxury.
How did you create your church fundraiser?
The very night Andrew, our youth pastor, told me about it, I brainstormed with my mom and we came up with slogans and ideas on how to broadcast it through the church. We ended up setting up a cardboard wishing well in the Narthex (lobby) of our church and asked people to toss in their spare change. When they dropped a handful in the well, they take out a glass pebble ("water droplet") to remind them of two things: 1) that our change is worth more in the world than it is in our pockets and 2) that Jesus is living water, offered to all of us at no cost at all. We told everybody to "spare your change, spare a life." It seemed to make a big impact already as we raised $800 the first morning. Then, on Youth Sunday, where the youth group leads the church service once a year, I got up and said a little speech and got the congregation excited. Everybody has been so supportive since then.
What kind of response did you get from your parents, pastors and congregation to the fundraiser?
My parents are always supportive of whatever I put my mind to. My mom helped a lot with the T-shirt design and some logos we made up and just overall encouragement. Jansen, my little brother, sits with me in front of the TV, rolling the coins we collect. The pastor at our church is so kind and always puts in a good word for me in the morning announcements. And the most important people, the congregation. The moms empty their pocketbooks and make them so much lighter when they pour the change in the well and the dads unload jars of coins they take out of their pockets after a long day's work. Without these people, I don't know how I could have ever pulled this off.
What is your goal for the fundraiser?
My current goal is to raise $10,000. Right now, I have about a third of that. If all goes well, I want to continue this fundraiser wherever I go. I'm involved in a lot of pageants and so I am planning on making my platform have something to do with the children of Africa or third world countries, so that I can get this problem acknowledged by the public and hopefully raise a lot more spare change.
What have you learned from doing this fundraiser?
I have learned tons about how other people manage to survive in this world and the sacrifices we should make to help their lives easier. I've learned that it's not always as easy as some people make it seem, all this fund-raising stuff. It takes some effort but it's so rewarding when I see how much it all adds up to, and I'm thinking, "Whoa, I did that."
Why do you think it's important for young people to get involved in issues/causes like this?
I think it's important because young people are the future. We are supposed to lead our country, even our world, to a greater and better future. If we just sit around and play video games, we'll know nothing but violence and hatred. But getting involved with organizations like the African Well Fund opens our minds and, more importantly, our hearts to what our world is going through. Not everybody has it easy. Youth need to take notice, and not just that, we need to do something about it. And that's what I plan to do.
Cathryn, what was your reaction when Annika told you she wanted to do this fundraiser?
I was really excited that she had heard something at youth group that inspired her. We were driving home and she told me about the youth meeting. The pastor asked all the kids to close their eyes and listened while he poured approximately 10,000 pinto beans into a big pot, representing the number of kids who die each day from lack of basic necessities. She then said she learned that three wells could be built for $10,000 in a village. "The amazing thing is," she said, "10,000 kids sounds like so much and 10,000 dollars doesn't." Our family is blessed with a comfortable lifestyle and it's very important to her dad and me that she recognize that most of the world does not live like we do. This was sort of an "aha!" moment for her. For a then-11-yr-old to think she could easily raise $10,000 was a very exciting prospect.
How has your family gotten involved in helping Annika reach her goal?
Annika is a busy girl and even though she is very excited about this project, it's not always top of mind. So her dad and I do what we can to keep it in front of her, strengthen her ownership of the project and encourage her to think of places to make her speech, and ways to raise more money (like her upcoming garage sale). Her little brother cheerfully helps her roll the coins and I shuttle her to the bank and the church office to make her deposits.
You designed some flyers, shirts and signs relating to Annika's fundraiser. Where did you get the idea for those? How much do you think those have helped?
I'm a graphic designer so I can make up a slogan and a logo for anything. Good design lends immediate credibility to a project, especially a charity, where people want to know that they are giving money to a real organization. I especially loved the slogan "Your change is worth more in the world than it is in your pocket." People can hardly argue with the fact that they're not going miss the spare change jangling around in their pockets and that it is going to add up to something much more important.
What advice can you offer other parents in encouraging or helping their children get involved like Annika has?
You involve your kids in as many community service projects as you have time to do, from sitting in front of the TV and assembling toiletry kits, to asking their friends to bring canned food to their birthday party instead of gifts, to running a lemonade stand for kids with cancer. You make it a part of your family's life and try to teach the kids that "to whom much is given, much is required" and you emphasize the rewards of the work. Along the way, you pay attention to the things they seem to relate to and enjoy, and one day, one of those little projects may bloom into a passion and they start coming up with the ideas themselves.
What kind of impact has this fundraiser had on Annika and your family?
I think this fundraiser is starting to show her how much of a difference one person can make in the world. This is a very easy project, without a lot of time or effort required, and yet, when she meets her goal, she will have made a difference to hundreds of people in Africa. I think this small glimpse of the challenges some people face with something as simple as water is opening her eyes and making her aware of other ways she can make a difference. Where she used to dread her youth pastor talking about Africa again, now her ears perk up when she hears news or conversation about Africa, so her world is getting bigger with every drop in the bucket.