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Koins for Kenya

Two Lakeridge High School students find purpose in raising money to build a school in Kenya
by: Vern Uyetake, Lakeridge High School students, from left, Erin Young and Shelley Marsee sort a jar of change they collected from students and staff at their school. The girls have $800 to go in order to build a school in Kenya through the non-profit organization Koins for Kenya, based in Utah.

Four to five students share a textbook. Fifty to 100 students sit on the mud-covered floor because they don't have desks. Kenya, a country located in eastern Africa, seems worlds away from classrooms in Lake Oswego.

But two Lakeridge High School students have given themselves an extra homework assignment to bring the issue closer to home.

Senior Shelley Marsee and junior Erin Young are raising money to promote education in Kenya. The girls' effort embodies the idea behind Koins for Kenya, a Utah-based non-profit that partners with small villages in Kenya to develop self-sustaining educational programs.

Young, 17, first heard about the organization after her younger sister listened to Rinda Hayes, the Samburu Area Director for Koins for Kenya, give a talk in her church. Hayes, a Lake Oswego resident, has been involved with international humanitarian work for more than 20 years and got involved with Koins for Kenya because virtually everything goes directly to people in need.

'Basically, we're trying to build a school,' Young said. 'It costs around $4,000 to build (one). That would provide three classrooms, an administration office and storage room.'

The money being raised at Lakeridge will go towards building the physical structure of the classrooms. Any additional money raised will provide learning materials for the students.

'Once they have a classroom, they have a floor in that room and a desk, then we consider that a great learning environment. Here (in Lake Oswego) we'd look at that and go, 'Oh my gosh, that's terrible - 60 to 90 kids with four to a desk - but with their standards, they are grateful to be off the floor and be in a classroom that keeps water off of them,' Hayes said.

As a representative for Koins for Kenya, Hayes makes annual trips to Kenya and could give the girls some insight of the importance of their service work.

'When you see the conditions that these kids are actually learning in, they're in the brush in Kenya, where the ability of these students is phenomenal,' she said. 'They don't have textbooks, they have very little writing material, but they learn orally, and they speak three languages and learn math all the way up to analytical geometry - we're talking about eighth graders.'

Young said her family has been donating money to send a Kenyan student to high school because the country's government does not pay for secondary education. Marsee, 18, encouraged Young to inform the Lakeridge community about Koins for Kenya, and the two took on the project together.

After proposing the idea to the Lakeridge Associated Student Body, the Koins for Kenya fundraiser was mentioned at a student assembly that highlighted service projects of the season. But the two young women were responsible for advertising and spreading the word.

In order for students to understand the current conditions in Kenya, the girls turned to Lakeridge history teachers to enforce their message.

'The situation in Kenya is worse today than 20 years ago,' Marsee said. 'And (the teachers) know that, so they could give a little feedback.'

Glass jars, which feature pictures of the Kenyan children and a description of the cause, are located in each of the history classrooms for students to drop loose change into.

With the jars in place for a little over a month, the Lakeridge community has shown their generosity by raising over $1,100.

'And an alumni and his father donated $2,000,' Marsee said. 'We are about $800 away from our goal.'

Their Koins for Kenya representative has also noticed their progress.

'Shelley's just done a lot - from going to soccer games and school activities, going through the cafeteria everyday, painting Koins for Kenya all over herself - she's just been her own little cheerleader for the cause,' Hayes said. 'So to see alumni jump on board and support her has been really neat.'

With the support from teachers, students, and alumni, the girls have found creative ways to help the students in Kenya.

'The (school) library has actually helped us out tremendously,' Marsee said. 'Instead of paying overdue late fees, they can take half off and donate it to Koins for Kenya.'

'Money goes a lot farther there,' Young said. 'Even a small donation can make a big difference for individual people.'

Hayes connected the girls with Shira Subotnick, a Lake Oswego artist and landscape designer, who is making seasonal centerpieces and wreaths to raise funds for Koins for Kenya.

'After seeing a presentation about the kids, she got excited and said she wanted to do something extra to help for the holidays,' Hayes said. 'So she is contributing all of her time and talent to make these absolutely beautiful centerpieces.'

Using many different types of natural greens, berries, candles and ribbons, the centerpieces and wreaths are unique art pieces and vary in price depending on the size. The centerpieces range from $35 to $45 for a small size, and $60 to $ 75 for a larger piece. And the wreaths, priced at $60, are adorned with plastic, reusable decorations. Subotnick also said she is willing to work within client's desired price ranges and any additional donation over the price of the product itself will go to Koins for Kenya.

'A lot of people just donate money, and now they're getting something to show for it,' Subotnick said.

Even though the holiday season is well underway, Marsee believes the centerpieces make great seasonal decorations, appropriate throughout the winter months.

'We're still collecting,' Young said. 'We want to get to $4,000 before we stop so we can go to other schools and be like…'

'Lakeridge built a school, what are you going to do?' Marsee interjected.

As a member of the school orchestra and the Metropolitan Youth Symphony, Marsee spends her free time practicing the cello while Young enjoys dancing, playing the piano and shooting hoops on her City League basketball team. With different extracurricular activities, the girls share one common passion - volunteering.

'It's an addiction. It really is,' Marsee said. 'Once you start one fundraiser, it's just like, 'Oh my goodness, I can't stop.''

'You just can't stop helping people,' Young added.

As high school students, Marsee and Young have proven that when you put your mind to aiding someone else and your heart is in the right place, everyone around you will gravitate to your cause.

'They just took the initiative and have put in hours and hours of time making this their cause,' Hayes said. 'They're saying that they want to make a mark in the world and do something worthwhile.'

'It's just neat to see young people that realize how much they have and want to give back. They want to do something for the bigger picture,' Hayes added.

For more information about the Koins for Kenya organization, visit the Web site www.koinsforkenya.org or e-mail Rinda Hayes at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

To order wreaths and centerpieces to benefit Koins for Kenya, contact Shelley Marsee at 503-348-7259.