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Students raise money for Japan Allison K. Sampite | Sat, May 07 2011 12:00 PM

Two Chula Vista third graders wondered what they could do to make the world a better place. Ultimately, they decided to raise money for the victims of Japan's earthquake and tsunami.

The idea began when the pair was inspired by three eighth-grade girls who wanted to help the local homeless ministry.

Expanding on that idea, Anahid Ounigian and AnaSofia Vildosola, both age 9, turned to their classmates at St. John's Episcopal Parish Day School for help.

"We saw the disaster in Japan and we just couldn't sit there and do nothing," Anahid said.

The March 11 9.0-magnitude earthquake was the most powerful to ever hit Japan. Occurring off shore, it triggered a massive tsunami that killed tens of thousands of people and injured and displaced thousands of others.

More than 5,000 miles away and nearly two months after the tragedy, Japanese victims are recovering, which they will do for a long time, said Brittany Gotschall, marketing and communications manager for the San Diego and Imperial counties chapter of the American Red Cross.

But not without a little help.

A few weeks ago, the girls planned a fundraiser at the school, taking advantage of a unique opportunity to help.

Students at the school are required to wear uniforms, but every Wednesday they are allowed to wear regular clothes if they pay $2.

That day is called Dress Down Day and the money collected goes toward a project determined by student leadership.

Anahid and AnaSofia planned a fundraiser, publicized the event, created fliers and made weekly announcements during Chapel service.

On April 15, the girls went from class to class collecting money from students and came up with $776.

"It's exceptional that at their age they have the motivation to do something like this," AnaSofia's mother, Anabel Vildosola said.

After hearing of this effort, a mother of two students from St. John's was moved by their kindness and wrote a check to the American Red Cross for $10,000.

What began as a small gesture to help others, resulted in a large donation to the American Red Cross for disaster relief for the people of Japan.

"We've received a number of donations from local schools where fundraisers have been initiated by students," Gotschall said. "This donation will provide considerable help to our sister society - the Japanese Red Cross, as they continue their recovery efforts."

At a Wednesday morning mass, Anahid and AnaSofia presented a check to Gotschall for $10,776.

"If two people can make a difference, imagine what the whole world can do," Anahid said.

Since Japan's tragedy, the American Red Cross has raised $133.5 million for the tsunami and relief fund, which will go toward clothing, food, shelter and appliances.

Anahid's mother Gabriella said she's impressed the girls have such big hearts at such a young age.

The girls admitted that the experience has given them an appreciation for what they have. "We hope this will help the people in need and that it's enough for shelter so they have somewhere to live," Anahid said.

Rev. Canon Jenny Vervynck said the girls are just two of several young leaders of projects the school is involved in.

"We're very proud of their desire to serve and care for others, which is a core value of St. John's school," she said.

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