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Atholton Academy Students Serve Afghan Refugee Families 

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“It’s made a difference in the way students think about what’s possible.”

When students from Atholton Adventist Academy (AAA) in Columbia, Md., saw the needs of Afghan refugees resettling in their local community, they decided they wanted to do something.
Over the past four months, AAA students have raised more than $5,000, collected and sorted donations, delivered food and essential items, and hosted an event in the school’s gymnasium where 18 Afghan families received winter clothing and enjoyed a catered meal. 
“It’s made a difference in the way students think about what’s possible,” says Beth Villanueva, an English teacher at AAA who’s worked closely with students on the refugee project. “Having a chance to make a tangible difference allows students to see a way to live that has value and meaning in their community.”
After seeing headlines about the Afghan refugee crisis and learning that many Afghan families were relocating to the greater Baltimore region, AAA student leaders decided they wanted their school to get involved. In November, AAA’s Student Council voted to support local Afghan refugees as the school’s official mission project for the 2021-2022 school year. 
The Student Council voted to raise $5,000 for Afghan refugee aid. The school surpassed the goal on March 4 during a “Jean Day” fundraiser where students contributed $5-10 donations for the privilege of not wearing school uniforms for the day. 
AAA students also supported the Chesapeake Conference Adventist Community Services (ACS) initiative to provide Afghan refugees with essential items by sorting donations at the Conference headquarters, located across the parking lot from the school.  

The school’s mission project has continued to expand and evolve. In January, students began collecting and delivering food to Afghan families staying in the area. When several student leaders participated in the distribution, they noticed that many of the refugees lacked proper winter clothing.

“They saw that many of the refugees didn’t have coats on and were wearing sandals even though it was 35 degrees outside,” Villanueva says. “They started talking to their friends and asking, ‘what else can we do?’” 

At the prompting of student leaders, AAA partnered with the Atholton church, the Laurel (Md.) Community church, and Chesapeake Conference ACS to host a clothing distribution and meal for the refugees in the school’s gymnasium on Feb. 6. Organizers provided transportation for 18 Afghan families to come to the school to receive clothes, toys, and a meal catered by Maiwand Kabob, a local Afghan restaurant. 

Students participated in the event by setting up clothing stations, serving food, and playing with Afghan children. Several school families ate with Afghan families, utilizing Google Translate to overcome language barriers. 

“I think it was important for them, and for us, so we could know more about their culture, and they could know more about our culture,” says Katie O’Ffill, 3rd grade. “It was fun to see all the kids and how [the event] impacted them. I saw them smiling a lot.”

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