St. Matthew’s teen HUGs the world’s needy: Rock Uganda raises over $30,000
By Elissa Serrao, The Dialog

.- Anna Schuck always wanted to make a difference.  In middle school, she began her volunteer work by helping with weekly bingo games at a local nursing home. Later, she served on the diocesan Youth Leadership Team and was an adviser to Bishop Michael Saltarelli on the Diocesan Pastoral Council.  She taught first-grade religion for four years at her parish, St. Matthew’s in Wilmington.

But perhaps the biggest difference she made came when she embraced efforts to help the needy overseas.  She led a group of friends that founded the HUG Club (Helping the Underprivileged Globally). “My friends and I heard a story about babies in China being tied to their beds because no one was there to take care of them [and] that really struck us,” she said. “I felt like there were bad things happening and no one was doing anything.”

Schuck, 17, a senior at the Charter School of Wilmington decided to take matters into her own hands and formed the club.

Shuck said she and her friends started out by piling into their parents’ cars and volunteering at places like the Ronald McDonald House and local soup kitchens.

“It was crazy because these were all people I had just met my freshman year of high school,” she said.  “We were all interested in helping others and that’s how we all became friends. It was the uniting factor.”

 Disgust and inspiration

At the end of their sophomore year, Schuck presented the HUG Club with a documentary film that would bring the group together for their greatest — and most daunting — task yet.

The film, called “Invisible Children,” was a documentary about the horrific effects of a 21-year civil war in northern Uganda.  According to Schuck, the film depicts thousands of kids being kidnapped and forced to be soldiers.  “It was inspiring, moving — and disgusting. The hour-and-a-half I spent watching this movie completely changed my life,” she said.

About 1.8 million people have been forced out of homes in Uganda into displacement camps, she said. “Children were fleeing their homes and sleeping on the streets because there’s safety in numbers.  The rebel soldiers would drug them, brainwash them and desensitize them to violence. They were only kids - kids as young as six and seven were holding guns and killing people.”

In an effort to increase awareness within her own school, Schuck asked to show a screening of the film during school hours. The only way she was given permission to show the film, she said, was to make it an optional viewing.

Schuck said there must have been some divine intervention that day when the whole school showed up to watch it.

“We were graced with a hot day that day,” she said. “The only room in the whole school that was air conditioned was the room where I was showing the movie. It was amazing.”

She said it only took one movie showing to get the entire school “pumped” to help the children of Uganda.

“That’s when Rock Uganda was born,” she said.

St. Barnabas embraces HUG concert

Rock Uganda, the biggest undertaking of the HUG Club, is a series of concerts featuring more than 30 bands. Ninety cents of every dollar earned from these concerts benefited
the Sir Samuel Baker Secondary School in Uganda.

After promoting the show via MySpace, passing out flyers in local high schools, middle schools and colleges and advertising in various area newspapers, the HUG Club held their first Rock Uganda Concert Dec. 9, 2006.

More than 300 people showed up, raising $3,426.  “I was incredibly surprised by the turnout,” she said. “I had no idea we could make that much money. I was entirely blown

Schuck took the success of the first concert as a sign to keep on going. “It just reaffirmed our confidence that we could change the world,” she said. “We had to do more.”

What began as a onetime event turned into a concert series, she said.  “The amount of people who ended up being involved is insane to me. We invited everyone to be a part of us — we had no restrictions. We joined together and connected over a common goal.”

Nursing peace and justice

Eleven concerts and $30,000 later, Schuck was honored for her efforts.  In April Schuck was presented with the Prudential Spirit of the Community Award, which recognized her as the top high-schoolaged volunteer in Delaware. She won a $1,000 scholarship and an
all-expense-paid trip to Washington D.C. to meet other top volunteers from across the country.

“I got to meet amazing people who all do incredible things,” she said.

Now, as she prepares to graduate this month, Schuck will leave the club in the hands of the underclassmen.  “I know they’ll come up with some amazing ideas of their own [to raise money for international causes],” she said.

The goodbye concert will be held June 21. She anticipates more than 400 people will attend.  “It’s going to be really sad, but it’s definitely time.

It will probably be our biggest one because this time, there’s no next time,” she said.

Although there’s some sorrow in closing this chapter of her life, Schuck is excited for all that lies ahead of her.  In the fall she will attend the University of Scranton, where she will major in nursing and minor in peace and justice.

After college, she plans to join the Peace Corps.  “I want to put my degree to work for the sake of helping others.”

The Dialog is the weekly newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Wilmington in Delaware.

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