Epiphany 8th graders “believe” in giving back, lead national contest

Photo Caption: Epiphany Catholic School eighth graders Sarah Thakral, Julia Nelson, Kelly Harris and McKenna Crouch hold four of the 50 Nook e-readers their U.S.-leading fundraising has already earned their school.

By: By Tom Dermody

“Where would I be if you didn’t believe?” — Justin Bieber, “Believe”


NORMAL — Sarah Thakral, McKenna Crouch, Kelly Harris, and Julia Nelson believe.

The eighth graders at Epiphany Catholic School here believe they have been blessed through the opportunities at their school and community.

They believe those less fortunate should have similar opportunities.

They believe their faith calls them to action and that, by inviting others to help, they can actually build a school for young people in need thousands of miles away.

Finally, they’re “obsessed” with teen music star Justin Bieber. And they believe he should visit their school.

Put those beliefs and dreams together and the Epiphany girls find themselves leading the nation in a fundraising contest sponsored by the organization Pencils of Promise. The group builds schools and education programs in high-need countries such as Nicaragua, Guatemala, and Laos.

Justin Bieber — now 19 with more than a dozen top hits and 33 million global Twitter followers — is a spokesperson for the organization, and encourages donations with a promise of a visit to a contributing school.

That’s all Sarah needed to know when she and her mother learned of the contest more than a year ago. She rounded up her friends.

Through bake sales, door-to-door appeals, 50/50 raffles at basketball games, and other creative methods, the Epiphany girls and their helpers have raised more than $13,700 in just the last few months, surpassing what they collected as seventh graders during their first year in the annual contest.

Pencils of Promise claims it can build a school in those countries for $25,000 — and in fact just broke ground at their 100th site. In the two contests in which they’ve taken part, the Epiphany girls have raised a combined $27,000.

“So we’ve actually already built a school,” said Julia.

“It makes us feel really proud of what we’ve accomplished,” added McKenna. “When we started, our goal was $1,000. We surprised ourselves.”

Mike Lootens, principal at Epiphany School, said the energetic girls exemplify the church’s teaching on stewardship — sharing time, talent, and treasure in gratitude for gifts God first gave us.

Along the way they’ve won for their school 50 Nook e-book readers in a December contest sponsored nationally by Barnes and Noble booksellers, which is partnering with Pencils for Promise. The girls raffled off two of them to earn even more money.

And then there is that other goal.

For every $25 a participating school raises, they earn one ticket for a drawing with the grand prize of a visit to their school by Bieber, accompanied by Adam Braun, founder of Pencils for Promise.

The drawing is set for Feb. 28. So far, Epiphany has 534 tickets in the hopper.

“The more we raise, the greater our chances of winning” say the girls on their fundraising website. Even if their school isn’t chosen, by finishing in the top three they can earn flights to send selected students to the school Bieber does visit.

“Last year we began fundraising and we found a true passion for helping others,” say the girls on their website, which also features a brief video of the friends. “We would like to continue to help give some children one of the best gifts they could ask for — an education.”

To make a pledge to assist the Epiphany girls, visit their website or send a check made out to “Pencils for Promise” to Epiphany Catholic School, 1002 E. College Ave., Normal, IL 61761.

Bieber’s Christian faith was depicted in prayer scenes that were included in the 2011 film “Justin Bieber: Never Say Never” and his 2012 “Believe” video shows him visiting hospitals and poverty-stricken areas. But his mother told Catholic News Service in a 2011 interview that she worried about the effects of global fame on her son, and in recent days the pop star has been criticized for taking part in a rap song with suggestive lyrics.

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