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While some teens were out at parties the Saturday before Halloween, others were putting on their costumes to raise money for education in Ariang, Africa.

Students for Hope, a club at Sweet Home High School, ran its fourth annual Boo Benefit last Saturday.

Children up to age 11 were invited to come to Sweet Home to trick-or-treat in a safe environment, as well as have a good time and get in the Halloween spirit.

Scott Aquilino is the adviser for Students for Hope. "It's very well-received by the community," Aquilino said about the benefit. "The kids love it."

Families who came to the Boo Benefit participated in trick-or-treating, cookie decorating, games, face painting and a basket raffle.

Angela Pandolfi, a senior at Sweet Home who has worked at the Boo Benefit all four years, says it is one of the group's best ideas.

Eman Abdelfadeel, Justin Sullivan, Meghan Flynn and Dru McKissic, all seniors at Sweet Home, are the leaders of Students for Hope.

"It's a student-run group," says Aquilino. "There's a lot of behind-the-scenes planning that the leaders do."

"It was exciting to see that all of our hard work over the past few months had made a difference," says Eman.

The other members are eager to do what the leaders ask. They donate baskets and candy, decorate and work at the benefit.

"They help us out a lot," says Justin. "It can't just be done by us."

All of the proceeds from the Boo Benefit go to Hope for Ariang, an organization founded by Gabriel Bol Deng. Bol Deng is from Ariang, and fled to a refugee camp when he was a young boy to escape an attack on his village. Bol Deng attended the benefit at Sweet Home.

"It's really incredible," he says. "It shows that people in high school and their parents really care about the people in Africa."

Bol Deng described what Hope for Ariang is about. He says that part of its mission focuses on girls' education. Bol Deng says that 95 percent of the people are illiterate, and 99 percent of girls are illiterate.

"As a Sudanese-American, I can personally attest to the human rights violations that have occurred in the Sudan," says Eman. "Sudan is a beautiful land, with beautiful people and traditions. However, this beauty has been tainted by the horrors that this land has been home to. We are all very grateful that the community helped make our event a success."

Currently, Hope for Ariang is focusing on sustaining the school by paying teachers and janitors. They are also working toward building a fence around the school. Money from the Boo Benefit will help with these tasks.

"I'm so grateful that this school cares about the village," says Bol Deng. "Education is just the beginning."

"I think it's a good cause," says Students for Hope member Hussain Hamoudi, a sophomore at Sweet Home. "It's going to make a lot of people happy."

Students for Hope members weren't the only ones working at the benefit. Other Sweet Home students also volunteered.

Seniors Kyle Merrifield and Richard Miller helped out with the popcorn machine that was stationed outside.

"It was cold, but we had fun," says Kyle.

Several members of the Amherst Youth Consortium also worked at the benefit.

Ben Graham, a freshman at St. Joseph's Collegiate Institute, and Jonathan Kim, a freshman at Williamsville North, both helped out with games in the gym.

"It was fun hanging out with the kids," says Ben.

"I'm glad that the money is going to a good cause and the kids have fun," says Jonathan.
For more information on Bol Deng and Hope for Ariang, visit www.hopeforariang.org.


Melanie Izard is a sophomore at Sweet Home High School.