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Local students honor Newtown’s hero teacher

Posted: December 25, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: December 25, 2012 2:00 a.m.

Victoria Soto, the 27-year-old Sandy Hook Elementary School teacher who was killed when a gunman invaded the school in Newtown, Conn.

The story of Victoria Soto, the 27-year-old Sandy Hook Elementary School teacher who was killed when a gunman invaded the school in Newtown, Conn., so touched students of a Valencia High School government class they have dedicated a house in Haiti in her memory.

Each semester seniors in Valencia High’s government class taught by Greg Hayes are required to raise money for a charitable project.

This past semester the students raised money to build a home for a poor family in Haiti.

Hayes said the students must come up with a fundraising project, individually or working in groups, to fund the donation.

Through the international aid organization Food for the Poor, $3,732 will build a family a brick house with sanitation, food for a year, clothing, school supplies and a start-up business so the family can be self-sustaining.

“This is the sixth house we’ve raised money for and last year we raised money for a well,” Hayes said. “We raised $5,270 last spring for a well that provides water for thousands.”

Hayes said the homes and the well have all been donated in honor of various Santa Clarita Valley residents.

“We just sent the money in for this house and we weren’t sure who we were going to honor,” Hayes said. “Then we saw the story of Victoria Soto and it was so touching and so incredible.”

Student Josh Heath is passionate about helping the homeless in the SCV.

Expanding that passion to the project to build the house in Haiti, Heath created a CD with friends and SCV singer/songwriter Johnny Strat that raised $120 for the project.

“It was a great experience,” Heath said.

Heath contacted Strat through Facebook and Strat donated two songs to the album.

“Everyone in the class got really involved,” Heath said. “I learned that despite the tough economic times people still have compassion.”

Heath hopes to take the lessons learned from Hayes’ class and create a Hart School District-wide program to benefit the Bridges to Home shelter in the SCV.

“I am very interested in getting high schools interested in philanthropy,” he said.

He hopes to help the homeless shelter reach its goal of becoming a year-round shelter.

Cassidy Keyes partnered with fellow student Elijah Nunez to hold a bake sale to raise funds.

“We made cupcakes and cake balls and we went around the school selling them,” Keyes said.

Collin Stell, also a member of the class, helped the duo by singing to classes that would purchase the entire inventory of baked goods.

Keyes said the effort was a “great class project.”

“I thought it was something really special that we could do,” she said. “I’ve never raised money for something that will help people for the rest of their lives. It was a great experience and we’ll get to see pictures of the house and the family we helped.”

Stell also raised money on his own by singing.

“I sang in front of the entire school at lunch,” Stell said.

Students donated what they could for his efforts and Stell raised $92.80.

Connell McKinney spent a few hours on a Saturday and raised $42 by running a lemonade stand in front of his house.

“I think Mr. Hayes’ class is a very good learning experience, not just learning about American government, but also life lessons,” McKinney said. “You learn how the world functions and you learn how to help the community and the world. It is one of the most insightful and best learning experiences I’ve gotten out of school.

Hayes said the project taught students the “right way, the legal way and the ethical way to raise money.”

“This was a life lesson in how to raise money,” Hayes said. “Once you are over the fear of fundraising — political, social or charitable — you realize you are free. They didn’t think they could do it, now they know they can.”

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