Teens Learn How to ‘Make a Difference’

From left, sophomores Branner Grimsley, Klara Gundelach and Solveig Erngren are getting a jump on community service by organizing a fundraiser to pay for wells in Africa. Photo by Danielle Robbins

Even as they complete the paperwork to start their own Healing Hands club at Laguna Beach High School, three sophomores, Branner Grimsley, Solveig Erngren and Klara Gundelach have already begun securing sponsors for a fundraising event.

The first annual Healing Hands for Water Walk Fundraiser will be held at the San Clemente Pier, 611 Avenida Victoria in San Clemente, on Saturday, Oct. 20, beginning at 8 a.m. Laguna students will team up with a club established at San Clemente High last year for the two-mile walk that will specifically raise money to build a well in a village in Kenya.

Energized by a desire to “make a difference,” the student groups aim to help indigenous villages in Africa by building wells, among other projects. Their efforts are an offshoot of the nonprofit Wisdom Spring, Inc., based in Sacramento, Calif.

Before relocating from Virginia two years ago, Laguna Beach resident Susan Hough, mother of Branner Grimsley, met Wisdom Spring’s founder, lecturer and activist Sobonfu Somé, who established the charity to sustain indigenous African cultures. Inspired, Hough joined the board, getting teens involved as a youth project coordinator.

Over eight years, young volunteers in Virginia raised funds for 20 wells and educated 2,000 children. “It seems to ignite this spirit in kids to do a project,” said the 54-year-old Hough, who works as a life coach.

And all of the Laguna students cited “making a difference” as a driving factor in their involvement. “Some people have to walk six to 10 hours just to get water that isn’t even that clean,” said Solveig, who admitted to becoming more conservative in her own water use after learning that. It’s a cause she can believe in. After pounding the pavement to solicit sponsorships from local shop owners for the upcoming event, she said she’s getting better at selling the merits of their cause to people who at first seem uninterested.

Going door to door comes a little more easily to Branner, who seems to have inherited his mother’s propensity for causes. Though some people are at best unresponsive or at worst a little crazy, “making a difference by helping these peoples’ lives in Africa,” is worth the effort, he said.

“I always wanted to make a difference and join a club,” explained Klara. When Branner approached her about joining Healing Hands, she liked the fact that, unlike other clubs, their efforts aid people in other countries, and that her participation is hands on.

She confessed that hitting up local merchants for sponsorships proved a challenge at first, but “once you get over yourself and remind yourself that it’s for a good cause, it gets easier,” she said.

The three friends plan to finalize their club’s constitution before the school’s Friday, Sept. 21 deadline, so they can recruit more volunteers during Club Roundup next Thursday, Sept. 27.

Klara thinks once other kids learn about their goals, they’ll join in. “I didn’t know anything about it at first, and now I love doing it,” she said.

Supporters can register online through Oct. 18 at www.wisdomspringinc.org for a fee of $20 for adults and $10 for students, which includes an event t-shirt. Donors can send a check to Wisdom Spring Inc., 1953 So. Coast Hwy., Laguna Beach, CA 92651.

“It’s going to be really exciting,” Solveig promised.

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