Students raise $1,000 for Japan

Granite Bay High School students with personal connection to Japan host fundraiser
By: Sena Christian, The Press Tribune
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On a typical night in March, Granite Bay High School junior Kevin Thomte stayed up late studying for class when he caught initial news broadcasts about an earthquake and tsunami that slammed Japan. “I was shocked,” Thomte said. “I figured it would be pretty devastating.” He was right. The 9.0-magnitude earthquake off Japan’s Pacific coast drove a tsunami that crashed ashore, causing 13,800 confirmed deaths, nearly 5,000 injuries and leaving about 14,100 people missing. More than 125,000 buildings were damaged or destroyed and millions of people left without electricity or water for days. The natural disaster also sparked an ongoing nuclear plant crisis. Thomte and two of his friends quickly rallied together to launch a fundraiser to support relief efforts. For the next two weeks, the group collected $1,000, which they will donate to the American Red Cross. Thomte, 16, had a personal interest in the tragedy. Most of his extended family lives in Japan — primarily around Tokyo — and he didn’t hear from his aunt or cousins for four days following the earthquake. “They’re still pretty scared,” he said, noting how earthquakes continue to shake the country. His friend freshman Derek Smith helped organize the fundraiser. They set up a table on campus to collect donations. “I was looking at the news and I really wanted to help but I couldn’t really figure out a way,” Smith said. His mom suggested he make paper cranes, which are a symbol of hope and prosperity, to give each student who donated money. Thomte got in touch with Lollicup Coffee and Tea, a popular venue for high school students. The café agreed to donate 20 percent of proceeds during one day to the fundraiser for any customer who mentioned Japan. This brought in $200. Fellow freshman Jori Vajretti joined the effort. She and her friends made cupcakes — with frosting in the design of the Japanese flag — and muffins and rice balls to sell at a bake sale, which raised $16. Then she went door-to-door around her neighborhood soliciting donations, bringing in $36. Vajretti also feels a personal connection with Japan, having visited the town of Maesawa for a 10-day cultural exchange program in June. She stayed with a host family and contacted them following the earthquake. They’re safe, she said. For two weeks in March, a Japanese student stayed with her family in Roseville. He was here when the earthquake and tsunami struck. “He didn’t show any emotion,” Vajretti said. “The Japanese people don’t like to worry people. But when he watched the news he paid attention. I think he was really concerned.” She still remembers learning of the devastation. “I was crying,” Vajretti said. “Honestly, it was really bad. I love Japan a lot. I want to live there when I get older. To see all the people that died and that are still missing and the families torn apart — it’s saddening. But I know they can recover.” Sena Christian can be reached at