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Contributions 'link' students to tsunami victims

By Greg Gelpi

Carefully Babb Middle School students connect colored construction paper links to form chains, representative of the bonds between Clayton County and the victims of the South Asia tsunamis.

Students are raising money for the relief efforts, and get a paper link for each dollar contributed with a goal of raising $1,000 and uniting the school in a visual display of charity.

"It just comes from our heart and the little that we have," Phong Nguyen, 14, said. "It's just a really terrible thing to happen so we just give what we have."

Students are trying to "link" classrooms and ultimately circle the school with the paper chain, school counselor Cindy Sellards said. The remarkable thing, she added, was that about 80 percent of the students eat free and reduced lunches, a sign of the economic levels of Babb's students, yet they continue to give.

"You never would think it would kill so many people," Chelsea Bivins, 13, said. "We want to be known for helping others."

Other students agree. Tiet Hong and Charleen Khaysavang said it makes them happy to be able to help people on the other side of the world.

The images on television leave "horrible" images in Khaysavang's mind.

"We just know it's a very bad thing to happen - very deadly," Hong said.

Sellards said the school will continue to collect money in homerooms and a large jug in the school's front lobby through Jan. 14. We want to "bring our arms around their country" with the ring of paper links.

"The thing about these students is that they've given already," Sellards said, pointing to a number of fund-raisers the students recently contributed to. "This one they're not just giving for the pizza party."

Clayton College & State University is also conducting fund-raising drives to aid those in South Asia, said Angela Avery, the assistant director of Student Life.

Students, faculty and staff can contribute to relief efforts though the newly opened Volunteer Services Office, stations around campus and the link for the office on its Web site www.clayton.edu, Avery said.

The drives will begin Monday as school starts for the semester and continue through the end of the month, she said. A final "push" for donations will be a few months later.

Despite the good intentions of most, the Georgia Secretary of State's Office is urging caution when giving to charities.

"When we have a natural disaster, that's when we have all of the scams come out of the wood work," spokesman Kara Sinkule said. "Thankfully, we have not so far (received any complaints)."

The Secretary of State's Web site www.sos.state.ga.us has a list of recommended charities, Sinkule said. To check up on a charity or place a complaint, people can call (404) 656-3920.

Anyone concerned can also call the Better Business Bureau or local law enforcement, Clayton County police Capt. Jeff Turner said.

When confronted with an opportunity to be charitable, people should first confirm the legitimacy of the charity, he said. Get a phone number and verify that the person works with the charity.

Second, ask how much of the donation will actually go to the relief fund, Turner said. He said that personally he wouldn't give to a charity in which less than 90 percent of his contribution went to those affected by the tsunamis. Often charities keep a portion of donations for administrative costs.

The local relief efforts are part of world-wide relief efforts to aid the areas of South Asia hit by tsunamis that have claimed a confirmed 140,000 lives, a number that could more than double from disease as a result of living conditions, according to the Associated Press. More than $4 billion has been pledged worldwide in what is being called the largest relief effort ever.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.