On January 12 and 13, Kids Helping Kids held its 10th Anniversary Gala Celebration featuring Andy Grammer on the 12th and Needtobreathe on the 13th at the Granada Theatre. The gala is produced by the student-run Kids Helping Kids (KHK), a nonprofit comprising San Marcos High School seniors enrolled in Advanced Placement Economics. It is the culmination of a series of fundraisers held each fall, which raise funds for disadvantaged students both in Santa Barbara and in developing countries.
The organization, which this year has 130 student members, is the brainchild of San Marcos High School teacher Jamie DeVries, who founded the organization in 2002. For the past five years, DeVries has worked with fellow teacher Jillian Heckman in advising the students, but both stressed that it’s the students who run the gala and the organization.
Guests were enthusiastically greeted on the red carpet in the Granada lobby by dozens of tuxedo- and black dress-clad KHK members, who had formed a line on the perimeter and clapped and cheered upon the arrival of each guest. After this amusing celebrity experience,“VIPs” were escorted upstairs to the elegant Founders Room for a pre-show reception, where Jazara Hutton, the winner of the 2016 San Marcos High School’s (SMHS) Royals Got Talent show, entertained with pop music while guests mingled, enjoyed wine and hors-d’oeuvres, and checked out silent auction items. KHK amassed a whopping 3,000 items for the silent auction from area merchants, parents, and fellow students, and set up a website for bidding prior to the event.
The show opened with SMHS’s 2017 talent show winner, Lily McWhirter, a senior at San Marcos and Vice President of the SMHS Madrigal Singers. She was followed by Dave Barnes and then the headline performer. Between acts on the first night, President and CEO Scott Reed of the Music Academy of the West (MAW) accepted the KHK Investment in People Award on behalf of MAW. Vice President of Marketing and Communications Ana Papakhian accepted the second night. The institution was recognized for the support and training that Reed, Papakhian, and Chief Advancement Officer Jonathan Bishop have provided over the years, as well as for the complimentary use of its facilities for another KHK fundraiser, the Winter Ball for students and parents. The galas also included a live auction and an ask, which helped it reach its very impressive annual fundraising goal of $500,000 gross, and an estimated $300,000 net.
Planning for the gala begins with the school year in August and includes marketing the event, organizing the VIP reception, coordinating the live and silent auctions, and producing the show. Smaller fundraising events leading up to the gala include the Royals Got Talent show, the Winter Ball, restaurant nights, and movie nights. KHK also raises funds through making pitches to businesses to become sponsors, an endeavor that provides the students with valuable training and experience. This year, Deckers Corporation, Pacifica Hotels, and the Mosher Foundation are among the large sponsors.
About 60 percent of the funds raised go to the needs of youth in the Santa Barbara area, many of whom are students at SMHS. KHK has provided funds to families who face financial hardship due to an illness, bought an electric wheelchair, visual aid machinery, and hearing equipment for students, donated to SMHS band and choir programs, and met myriad other needs. Globally, KHK currently funds the Bombay Teen Challenge, which rescues and assists victims of sex slavery in Mumbai and funds a safe house and school in Nicaragua. KHK students donate their time as well, tutoring and mentoring students in low-income housing developments on Santa Barbara’s Westside.
According to Chief Marketing Officer Allie Jones (a SMHS senior), “KHK offers an opportunity for students to take what they have learned in class and use it to make a difference. Concepts such as supply and demand that sound like boring econ mumbo jumbo to a regular AP economics students can be taken and used to save a life.” KHK student Victoria Ortiz shared that “KHK has taught me how to talk to professional businesses, how to solve problems with team members, and how to …enact change in the world around me.”
DeVries wants KHK to serve as a model for other schools. In 2012, State Farm Insurance awarded KHK $78,000 to spread the program to other schools. Similar organizations have been set up at high schools in Sacramento, Agoura Hills, and Dana Hills, California. Currently DeVries and his students are developing curriculum that can be replicated in classrooms throughout the nation.
For more information about Kids Helping Kids, go to kidshelpingkidssb.org.
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By Gail Arnold