When disaster struck in March in Japan, one Akron student felt the impact. Kazuto "Kazu" Hitomi has spent the academic year in Western New York as an exchange student at Akron High School. Kazu's hometown -- Saitama, Japan, is located just two hours from the city of Fukushima, site of the nuclear reactor that exploded after the 9.0-magnitude earthquake.

When he first heard the devastating news of the earthquake and subsequent tsunami, Kazu "couldn't believe it at all." Kazu recalls being amazed at seeing water where there once was land. He "wondered and feared [whether his] parents and friends were safe or not."

Kazu, along with a number of Akron students, have joined forces to raise funds to aid the people of Japan.

Recently, Kazu launched a T-shirt sale. Danielle Chase, an Akron teacher, agreed to help out. Chase's husband does graphic design and was able to help Kazu devise a concept for the T-shirts. The shirts sport various slogans, including "You have one life -- live it to the fullest," "Pray for Japan" and "Give back."

Chase is also an adviser to Akron's Interact Club. The Interact Club is a Rotary International-sponsored service club for teens. Kazu's "Prayers for Japan" T-shirts have been sold by the Interact Club and in Akron High School's bookstore.

"Rotary has contributed and bought shirts as well," says Chase.

No totals have been calculated for the T-shirt sale, which is still being conducted. Each shirt is $15. All profits made from the shirt sale are being donated through an organization that gives 100 percent of proceeds to relief efforts in Japan.

"The funds raised from the sale of T-shirts will allow me, with your help, to contribute to the ongoing relief efforts in my country," Kazu said.

Akron High School's business law class, taught by Colleen Culligan, decided early in the year to "create a not-for-profit business" as a way to "focus on ethical business practice," says Culligan.

The students went through the process of creating a business, including collecting market research and having a board meeting with Akron's principal, Joseph Lucenti. Chewing for Charity was created. Chewing for Charity sells chewing gum. When the business was created, the students had not chosen a charity to donate to.

Coincidentally, the allotted dates for the sale fell within weeks of Japan's first earthquake.

"As soon as the [students] saw the images of the tsunami," says Culligan, "they wanted to choose to help Japan, since we have a Japanese exchange student."

The gum sale "made about 300 dollars," says Culligan.

"No matter how much we can raise," says Kazu, "[it is] the only way in which we can positively impact [Japan]."


Catherine Kelkenberg is a sophomore at Akron High School.