Kharina Chapron, a senior at Hammond High School in Columbia whose parents are native Haitians, has been overwhelmed by the support her classmates have shown her since a major earthquake struck the country, causing widespread devastation and destruction.
When a staff member learned that Chapron had such a close connection to the country, she decided to launch a fundraising effort at the school. As a result, students raised almost $400 in three days by donating money during lunch periods and class breaks. The effort will last until Feb. 12, when all proceeds will be given to the Red Cross.
"It made me feel so happy that they donated, knowing that everything is the way it is with the economy," Chapron said. Both her parents were in Haiti when the earthquake hit Jan. 12, but were unharmed. Chapron, 17, has not been able to reach her older sister, who was also in the country during the earthquake.
"Many of [my classmates] are sympathetic," she said. "They want everything to be better for me. I am very appreciative of that."
Jessica Henderson, the head of the school's Black Student Achievement Program, organized the fundraising effort. "We would like to do anything we can to support it," she said. "Having it [the earthquake] hit so close to home makes us want to give anything we have."
Hammond isn't the only school in Maryland pitching in to help Haiti.
State schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick has challenged students at all schools to participate in the Maryland Kids Care Campaign: Operation Haiti, which asks student government associations to "collect pennies and more." It is still too early to determine how much money schools have been able to raise since Grasmick made the request Jan. 15, according to Maryland State Department of Education spokesman Bill Reinhard.
"It's ongoing," said Reinhard, who likens the donation effort to that seen shortly after Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans. "We've heard from a lot of systems."
In Baltimore County, more than a dozen schools have already planned efforts to raise money in addition to Operation Haiti.
At Arbutus Elementary, the school plans to ask each student to bring in $1; teachers have pledged to match the students' donations. The school hopes to raise $800, with the money going to the Red Cross. At Arbutus Middle, the school will donate to the Red Cross 80 percent of the proceeds from ticket and snack sales from a winter dance. And at Dulaney High, the French Club will collect money during lunch shifts and in French classes to donate to the relief effort.
"Our students are very well informed. And they have been watching with empathy," said Baltimore County schools spokesman Charles Herndon. "It has been very satisfying to see our students be well aware and willing to help. They have very quickly mobilized to help where they can."
There have also been a number of school-wide efforts in Baltimore City, most notably at Polytechnic Institute, where students raised more than $600 in one day during an impromptu money collection in front of the school before classes. The school donated the funds to Doctors Without Borders.
"You saw an outpouring of caring for citizens of Haiti," said Principal Barney Wilson.
The school will also join Grasmick's statewide effort.
"We don't believe that anyone can out-give Poly," Wilson said. "We are up to the challenge of giving more than any other school. We consider ourselves to be good people here at Poly. Good people will step up and help."
The support hasn't only come in the form of money.
In Baltimore City, about 90 students system-wide spent last Monday writing pen pal letters to students in Haiti for the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service.
In addition to fundraising efforts, Oakland Mills High School in Columbia has offered its Haitian students grief counseling.
Principal Frank Eastham made personal calls to the home of each Haitian student at the school, which has the highest population of Haitian students in Howard County.
"It's something that we all feel," Eastham said. "We want to support them the best way we can."
John Joseph, a 14-year-old freshman at Oakland Mills, said he is thankful for the support his school has shown him since the earthquake. Joseph, who has lived in the United States for three years, is originally from Port-au-Prince, the Haitian capital. His father is still in the country and Joseph said late last week that he hadn't been able to contact him since an aftershock earlier in the week.
"My classmates tell me that everything is going to be OK and that my family is going to be OK," he said. "They say they are praying for me."
Joseph said it is difficult to watch all of the devastation in his home country.
"I want to go there and help them," he said. "It's really hard."
But Joseph has been able to find some comfort in the support system at his school.
"I thank them," he said, referring to his classmates and teachers. "I really appreciate it."