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Giving Back

Teaching kids that every penny counts Add to ...

The Donor: John Hetherington

The Gift: Raising $30,000, and climbing

The Cause: To build houses and clinics in Sri Lanka

During the school year John Hetherington teaches history and world religions at West Ferris Secondary School in North Bay, Ont. But every summer he heads off on an adventure, travelling to war zones and other troubled parts of the world.

In 2005, he visited Sri Lanka six months after the tsunami that devastated the country. By chance he ran into a group from a Lion's Club in North Bay whose members were helping build a house. He was struck by their dedication and how every penny raised went into the project. "I just fell in love with what they were doing," recalled Mr. Hetherington, 48. "I got back and I said, 'We've got 900 kids at our school - I bet we could build these houses.'"

He started with a penny drive, encouraging students to drop off loose change in his classroom. Within three months the students raised $5,000, enough to build a house. Mr. Hetherington sent the donation to the Lion's Club and figured that was it.

Five years later, the penny drive is going strong and is being supplemented with other fundraising events. Each year the students finance a project in Sri Lanka: So far they have built another house, a medical clinic, playground and a water tower. This year the money will go toward helping a university student complete his education. "We're probably crossing about 1.8 million pennies," said Mr. Hetherington, who added that more than $30,000 has been raised in total so far. He visits Sri Lanka almost every summer, and also organizes battlefield tours around the world for Canadian veterans on a not-for-profit basis.

Mr. Hetherington, who is single and jokes that the school has become his life, never expected the penny drive to last this long. "It's nothing organized," he said. "It's just sort of by chance and the kids pick up on it and they see the fruits of their labour by the end of the year."


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