Thursday, April 29, 1999

Fort Thomas students raise Koins for Kosovo

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        FORT THOMAS — Last year, the students at Johnson Elementary School raised a couple of hundred dollars to buy an ICEE machine for the school cafeteria.

        This year, their spare change isn't going for dessert. It's going half a world away to the Kosovo refugees, whose lives have been uprooted by ethnic fighting in the Balkans.

        Through a project started by teacher Rick Rafferty's fifth-grade class called Koins for Kosovo, students at the Fort Thomas school have been filling empty milk jugs in the cafeteria with handfuls of change each day for more than a week.

        “Last school year, we did something for ourselves and bought an ICEE machine,” said 11-year-old Matt Christy, the student who came up with Koins for Kosovo as a class and school project.

        “Mr. Rafferty told us at the beginning of the year he wanted us to do something to make the world more beautiful,” Matt said. “What's happening in Kosovo just seems so wrong. This is a way we can help.”

        As of Tuesday, nearly $800 had been collected. The money will go to the American Red Cross, to be earmarked for the relief efforts helping the thousands of people driven from their homes by Serb aggression.

        Like a parent proud of a child, Mr. Rafferty happily joined his students in the school's bustling cafeteria to talk about the project. “This is something Matt came up with and his fellow students took

        over and did,” the teacher said.

        “We've talked about Kosovo some in class,” said Mr. Rafferty, a history and social studies teacher from Fort Thomas. “But they've seen what is happening on TV. They've heard their parents talk about it. They wanted to do something to help.”

        After Matt came up with the fund-raising idea, fellow fifth-grader Reid Wahlbrink got his father, Steve, to donate some paper for a flier on the project. The children then circulated the flier around school.

        “It was just so bad watching the Serbs just take over everything over there,” Reid said. “When Matt came up with an idea to help the refugees, I wanted to help.”

        Nearly every one of Mr. Rafferty's 20 or so students took the fliers and passed them out around school, even making presentations about the fund-raising drive to each classroom.

        “It's really taken off,” Mr. Rafferty said. “I thought we would do a couple of hundred dollars. I never thought we would be getting close to $1,000.”

        The students don't always understand the reasons for the fighting, including America's involvement, but they have been willing to give.

        Fourth-graders Alicia Browning, Blair Murphy and Dianna Rafferty crowded around the milk jugs as Dianna dropped in a handful of change.

        “That's about a dollar,” she said with a big smile. “Me and my friends are giving it. We want to help.”

        Blair said if she wasn't donating the money, she would be probably be spending it on candy. “I'm not real sure why,” Blair said, “but those people over there need it more than me.”

        Alicia said she couldn't understand why America was bombing at the same time the students were trying to help by raising money. “I found out there are two sides, and we're just helping one of them,” she said.

        The Johnson students, who plan to end their fund-raising drive Friday, aren't alone in their desire to help the refugees.

        St. Therese School in Southgate recently raised $800 through a class competition to raise the most pennies, said Principal Sister Mary Ellen Strunk.

        Catholic Relief Services, which is providing assistance to the Kosovo refugees, received $200. Another $200 went to the victims of the April 9 tornado in Ohio, and $250 was donated to a mission in Uganda operated by the Sisters of Notre Dame.

        “The students are still trying to decide what to do with the rest of the money,” Sr. Strunk said.

How to help Kosovo refugees

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