When I was in high school, I was...well...I blended. Into the wall. Under the radar. I wasn't popular or highly involved in sports or music or art. To this day I'm sure 90% of my graduating class still wouldn't remember going to school with me.
Until late in my Sophomore year, I never really had a "thing" that set me apart from anyone else. And then Invisible Children came along and ruined my life in the best way possible.
When I was 16 I saw a film called "The Rescue" about the Lord's Resistance Army and the plight of children in Northern Uganda. I was floored. For the first time in my life, I felt like my eyes had been opened to a world that needed my voice for a cause bigger than myself. Flash forward to my Senior year, when I invited the Invisible Children Roadies to my school, Lakewood High School, to screen a film called "Tony" to the student body. With them came a Ugandan Roadie affected by the war in Northern Uganda--a 22 year old girl named Collines Angwech.
I often think back to this moment and wonder what I would've said if someone told me, "You and Collines will build a school in her home village in 5 years...and Lakewood High School is going to help you do that," Considering the know-it-all 17 year old I was, I probably would have rolled my eyes and laughed. A crazy idea of that caliber was not only financially inconceivable but practically impossible.
But guess what? It happened.
People who don't know about the crazy-amazing phenomenon that comes out of Lakewood High School must have lived in a cave for the past few years. In case you're one of those people, let me enlighten you. In 2013 LHS won a nation-wide "lip-dub" (lip syncing to a song) competition on Good Morning America in which the entire school (over 2,000 kids) created a music video to Katy Perry's "Roar". Their reward was a school-wide private concert by the pop queen herself and huge donations flowing in from all over the nation. ALL of the money they raised LHS donated to Colorado flood victims. That was just the beginning.
In 2014, the student body rallied around a little boy named Liam from the Lakewood community with a rare genetic disorder called FOP which slowly turns muscle to bone. During their first annual "ROAR Week" the students held a 5 day fundraiser for FOP research, raising over $10,000 in total.
A few months ago I got an email from the Senior Class President at Lakewood High--Jessie--who asked if Far Away Friends might be interested in being the 2015 ROAR Week charity and helping us raise $10,000 to finish building our school in Namasale, Uganda, which would become LHS' "sister school".
At this time, our team was racking our brain to figure out how we were going to come up with the funds to finish our building. The Universe must have heard the anxious thoughts bouncing in my head. For a brief moment reading her message, I think my heart must have stopped. I read the message again. And then once more. And again for good measure. And then I refreshed my page and read it several more times over to make sure I wasn't dreaming it up. . I think the only thing my shaking fingers could type out was, "YES."
I will admit, I was nervous at first. As incredible as LHS students are, I was a little doubtful that we could make it to $10,000. TEN THOUSAND DOLLARS is a LOT OF MONEY. Spelled out its even a lot of letters I mean, come on! Nobody could raise that money in 5 days. In our first year as an fledgling NPO, we have never made over $8,000 in a single fundraiser. And here were this group of the bravest high schoolers I've ever met in LHS' Student Senate telling me "Really, Jayme, it'll be easy!"
Together with Student Senate and the LHS Administration we planned presentations, events, after school movie nights and volleyball games, packed up our merch table, bought tee shirts and buttons and stickers, planned out a school wide pep assembly at the end of the week, crossed our fingers and hoped for the best.
It's funny how life can surprise you when you least expect it to. The very first day of ROAR Week we planned on presenting to a few classes about the history of Northern Uganda and access to Education in Namasale. Honestly, we expected maybe a couple classes of kids yawning through our speech and looking down at their phones hoping they'd be released from class early as soon as we were done talking.
What we didn't expect was teachers to bring ALL of their classes down and fill the Lecture Center with HUNDREDS OF STUDENTS AT A TIME, at least half of them crying and ready to jump on a plane to Uganda. We also didn't expect nearly 200+ kids visiting our merch table every day, or over 120 kids showing up to our Volleyball Tournament fundraiser that Wednesday decked out in spandex shorts and hot pink uniforms. We didn't expect the Drama Department to donate all of their ticket sales from their first student-devised production to Far Away Friends.
We didn't expect a kid to be willing to cut off his epic mullet if his friend raised $500 "for their sister school in Uganda".
We didn't expect the student body to band together at the pep assembly and raise $4,500 in ONE MINUTE. Yeah. They raised $4,500 in one minute by passing buckets through the crowd. Ridiculous.
We didn't expect 2,000 kids to storm the floor in a impromptu dance party when we brought out Logo Ligi, a drumming group from Ghana for a celebratory performance.
We didn't expect to raise $10,000 in 5 days.
But guess what? That happened too.
Not only did it happen. Together we raised more. About $3,000 more. A total of THIRTEEN THOUSAND DOLLARS.
To say that Roar Week wasn't one of the most magical, insane, emotional and surreal weeks of my life would be an understatement. The dream for Far Away Friends was born in the halls of Lakewood High School, where I first met Collines Angwech. It continued to grow all the way to Namasale, Northern Uganda where it became tangible. And it returned home to LHS when 2,000 roaring "Tigers" stood beside us and said that they too believe that distance means so little when someone means so much.
And on the anniversary of our first year as an NPO, we finished the first chapter of our story. At the assembly, I told the students at Lakewood something a mentor of mine once said, "Your life is bigger than your best dream for it," and we're the proof. No matter how inconceivable your dream may seem, its still not big enough. We dreamt big. Impossibly big. And in our 11th hour, Lakewood High School made the dream come to fruition. Now, its time to Roar louder and dream even bigger.
Lakewood, we love you. Always.