Hemelt: WSJH students raise $30K for 1st time DC trip

Published 12:03 am Saturday, March 18, 2017

Trenice Cooper says some of her future travel companions have never flown in a plane, and that aspect alone has a few of them nervous.

The West St. John High School business teacher is shepherding 14 students, including ninth through 12th graders, to a week in Washington, D.C.

She’s wants it to lead to a lifetime of change.

“I’m hoping they are going to learn how to agree to disagree,” Cooper told me this week. “The country is filled with completely diverse opinions, personalities, religions and races, and I want them to come out of this knowing the world is bigger than Edgard. We’re going to most of the museums. We going to visit the White House and eat lunch on the lawn of the White House.”

Scholastic conversations and debates with students from across the country are also planned.

As her school’s Close Up Foundation sponsor, Cooper and her students are breaking ground as West St. John’s first Close Up trip.

Like anything new, it took an amazing effort to plan the trip, namely raising more than $30,000 to fund the effort.

According to Cooper, Cargill donated $3,500, The Ladies Auxiliary gave $1,500, New Wine Christian Fellowship donated the use of their meeting room in LaPlace to host a fundraising lunch and many others from across the parish and beyond contributed.

Fundraising efforts and appeals for support were also chronicled in L’OBSERVATEUR.

“It was literally hundreds of people that donated for these kids to go on this trip,” Cooper said. “I think it’s not real to (the students) yet. I kept constant communication with their parents and didn’t have one problem. All the parents were very cooperative. I’m not from this area, but I really fell in love with the people of Edgard. They came together and supported these kids 100 percent.”

Cooper maintains she knew her students would accomplish their goal, paving the way for a trip planned April 16-21.

Students and teachers created a thermometer to show their fundraising efforts, providing a visual reminder that connected them to the trip each day.

“I wanted them to work for it and know that anything is possible when you keep your hope and faith up,” Cooper said. “They didn’t know where the money was coming from. I would remind them all the time that they were favored and they were going to go on this trip.”

Some students remained doubtful that such an amount of money could be raised to fund a trip no other school group had pulled off at West St. John High. The common goal created unity, and the need for fundraisers focused on goal setting and creative thinking. A prayer breakfast and community luncheon was hosted along the way, connecting students to the very community who was supporting them.

The journey proved as important as the destination. So much has been learned and the trip is still a month away.

“We had maybe about 30 kids that wanted to participate, and I told each one of them I would only allow certain types of personalities, certain types of people to come with me,” Cooper said. “Through the process of elimination, I knew who was more serious about it. There were a few students that dropped off, but the ones that stuck in there kept in constant communication. I think they got my energy and they believed they could do it.”

Their reward is a chance to visit and tour our nation’s capital. It’s a well-deserved result for a group of students who created an opportunity that should benefit them for years to come.

Stephen Hemelt is publisher and editor of L’OBSERVATEUR. He can be reached at 985-652-9545 or stephen.hemelt@lobservateur.com.