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For Tsunami Effort, Md. Youth Conceives Wearable Awareness

By Ylan Q. Mui
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 8, 2005; Page B01

The idea came to 10-year-old Jacob Rasch the day after the tsunami hit. He was on vacation in Miami with his family when the news broke, and together they watched video of the waves of destruction, the stories of the victims and reports of the climbing death toll.

"I thought, 'This was bad,' " said Jacob, who lives in Bethesda. "But I didn't know exactly how bad it was then."


Jacob Rasch, right, Michael Flack, both 10, will aid tsunami relief by selling their own version of the trendy cause bracelets at Burning Tree Elementary. (Kevin Clark -- The Washington Post)

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He wanted to help. He already was supporting several causes by wearing the colored "awareness bracelets" that have become the latest tweener trend: a pink one for breast cancer, a blue one for truth and four yellow ones for cyclist Lance Armstrong's LiveStrong cancer research foundation.

So Jacob, a fifth-grader at Burning Tree Elementary School, decided he would add one more to the mix, a tie-dye-looking bracelet that will be used to raise money for Room to Read, a nonprofit group dedicated to rebuilding the schools in South Asia that were destroyed.

"You have to kind of get on their level," said Jacob's mother, Jodie Rasch. The bracelets will help children "show solidarity and get them aware of what's going on and [feeling] like they can help."

That idea is catching on across the country. EZbands, the New Jersey company that will manufacture Jacob's bracelets, has received about 200 tsunami-related inquiries in the past three days from schools and companies nationwide. "There's really a rush to get them," said Sam Kopolovich, chief of sales.

In California, students at one high school are selling "Wave of Aid" bands. A man in Wisconsin has ordered 10,000 bracelets imprinted with the nonprofit group CARE's slogan, "Hope, Opportunity, Dignity," for its tsunami-relief efforts, the Wisconsin State Journal reported. And Esti Shemtov, 13, a freshman at the Yeshiva of Greater Washington, said she was planning to order 500 light blue bands to sell at her school and in stores in Dupont Circle.

"I thought it was beautiful that these kids would try to think of ways to help," said Jeff Huvar of Findpromos.com in New York, which also manufactures the silicone bracelets and has filled one order from a school. "What can a little kid do? Well, this is something a little kid can do and do well."

Jacob said he and his parents ordered 5,000 bracelets Thursday and expect them to arrive within two weeks. The cost was 59 cents per bracelet -- the company is not charging the family for setup and is giving them free shipping -- and the price goes down as the number of orders goes up. The principal at Burning Tree, Helen S. Chaset, wrote a check for the initial order.

Children at the school will sell the bands for $3 for the first one and $2 for any extras. All proceeds will go to Room to Read.

The organization's founder and chief executive, John Wood of San Francisco, said that the group initially will repair damaged schools but that he hopes to also build 10 schools within three years.

The project is expected to cost about $1 million. So far, Wood has raised $112,000 but is hoping that initiatives such as Jacob's will help Room to Read quickly meet its goal.

"The best part of my job is being at the center of all this creativity that gets unleashed," Wood said. "You have the brightest ideas coming from students who are getting so involved in this."

Jacob's bracelets will be yellow, green and blue -- representing the sun, the earth and water -- with "Restore, Relief, Rebuild" and "Schools Building Schools" imprinted on them. The inside will say "Tsunami Relief 2005."

Jacob and his classmate Michael Flack, 10, said they will sell the bracelets to their family members and to friends. Bethesda and Seven Locks elementary schools and Walt Whitman High School also have joined in the effort, and other schools are considering it, Jacob's parents said. Rasch said that others interested in ordering bracelets can e-mail tsunamibands@aol.com.

"This could be state- and maybe even East Coast-wide," Jacob said yesterday.

But the students' ultimate goal is much more lofty.

"Hopefully, the kids will be able to go back to school," Michael said.

"And their lives will be back to normal," Jacob added. Then he paused. "Sort of. As close to back to normal as it can get."


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