Since 2008, members of a service club at have sought to "Be the Change" through local actions, but next summer six students plan to make a global impact with a service trip to Ghana.
Through Projects Abroad®, three seniors, one junior and two sophomores in the Be the Change Club and adviser Jen Gembala will work at an orphanage to improve the conditions of the building and the morale of the children through reading, play and song.
“It means a lot to me,” said senior Ashley Enns, who has always had an interest in service and human rights. “We’re really going to experience the culture and be immersed in it.”
The two-week trip is planned for July 1 to 14, 2012, but the biggest challenge at the moment is financial. Simply put, it’s an expensive trip; as a group, the girls and Gembala need a total of $35,000.
Each participant is raising funds individually and the group has some major events planned.
Enns, for example, sent out 102 letters and has raised $1,600.
Since late last school year, junior Emily Barger has saved nearly every dollar she has made working in a restaurant and babysitting for the trip.
She said it can be hard, and she often wants to buy things, but has learned to spend her time in ways that don’t cost money.
“I just think about the trip and how rewarding it’s going to be,” she said.
And the group realizes a much greater and collective effort will be needed. They are accepting donations through the school and a website but are also planning fundraising events, including a Steve Wronker’s Funny Business Comedy Hypnosis Show at 7 p.m. Jan. 12 at Canton High School.
They hope to raise as much as $10,000 from the event. In addition to the show itself, there will be a program and silent auction.
The girls have been busy visiting and sending letters to area businesses, asking them to run advertisements, which will run in the program and on Wronker’s site, or donate items for the drawing and silent auction.
Raising funds has been a time-consuming effort.
“It’s a huge commitment,” Enns said.
But the interaction, letter writing and time management teaches valuable skills as well, Gembala said.
The planning for the trip started last school year and for at least one student will be a dream come true.
Barger has wanted to go to Africa since she was a sixth grader, when she read an article in "America Girl" magazine about a girl who went to Tanzania.
“I kind of figured it would never happen,” she said.
But when the club began talking about trips last year and looked at the Projects Abroad booklet, Ghana jumped out at her.
“I knew that I wanted to go to Ghana,” she said. “I don’t know what it was specifically.”
As it turns out, Ghana was a good choice, due to its safety and other factors. It’s often referred to as “Africa for beginners.”
But still it’s a different world and culture.
The girls said many in the country go without luxuries Americans take for granted.
For example, extended power outages like the one the Farmington Valley experienced after the October snowstorm, are normal.
“We’re going to spend time with a culture who spend their daily lives with something we couldn’t deal with,” Gembala said.
Senior Adrianne Kunkel said the trip will probably be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
“It’s out of the ordinary,” Kunkel said. “It’s something I’m probably not going to get another chance to do in my life.”
“I mainly want to go see a different part of the world,” sophomore Jillian Casey said. “Living in Canton, we all kind of live a sheltered life.”
Gembala, a social studies teacher, started Be the Change after coming to Canton in 2008.
In her previous job at Windsor High School, she taught a human rights course. Because Canton did not have that offering, she thought the club would be a good fit and named it after the famous Mahatma Ghandi quote "You must be the change you want to see in the world."
Club membership has fluctuated and has involved mostly girls. The group has sponsored many speakers, made blankets for a women’s shelter, worked with younger students and has handed out “warrior” notes with positive messages to other students.
“I was always into community service,” Kunkel said. “I figured this would be a good way to do that.”
This year, they will continue to do the things they have been. Even this week they are participating in an Anti-Defamation League workshop.
Of course, they will also spend a lot of their energy on raising money for the trip. Despite the hard work, the efforts are inspiring for Gembala.
"For me personally, it's energizing," she said. "This is why I became a teacher."
She hopes to make this a regular part of the club.
"I'd love to do it every year," Gembala said.
People who want to help can send checks to Canton High School CHS c/o Be the Change, 76 Simonds Ave., Canton, CT 06019.
Donations can also be made through the club’s Web site at www.bethechangeinghana.myevent.com. Business or individuals who want to donate items for the January event or have questions can contact Gembala at email@example.com.