Feature Stories

Scenic Heights Student Creates Project to Support Ukrainian Refugees through Basketball

Benjamin Mendoza, a fourth grade student from Scenic Heights Elementary, is raising awareness, money and supplies for Ukrainian refugees using his love of basketball. Benjamin’s mother, Aneta, was born in Jastrzebie Zdroj, Poland, a town that is preparing to receive about 200 Ukrainian refugee families. When Benjamin learned about what was happening in his mother’s home town, he was drawn to help.

“At first, my brother and I didn’t think that there could be anything we could do,” he explained. “Then, my mom asked if there was anything that we feel like we can do well, and that is when the idea of selling [basketball] baskets came up. We love basketball, so we got very excited.” 

“We decided to give people different options to join us: to donate clothes for kids, to buy basketball shots ($1 free throws and $3 three pointers), to write cards to send to the kids to feel welcome when they cross the border into Poland or to join our team to help us raise money and shoot baskets for this cause,” said Benjamin. Once the plan was made, the Mendoza family shared about the project on their social media platforms. “It just took off from there,” said Benjamin. 

“I have been blown away by the amount of support the boys have received from neighbors, schools, friends, family and the community,” said Aneta. She explained that Benjamin originally set a $500 fundraising goal, and he raised five times that amount on Day 1 of the project. “We are also expecting clothing donations to start arriving soon. An elementary school in Puerto Rico sent pictures of kids working on greeting cards. Youth sport coaches have reached out asking how they can help. We are so shocked and grateful.”

“I am really proud of Benjamin taking on this service learning project to make a difference in the world,” said Joe Wacker, Principal at Scenic Heights Elementary. “Our school is designated an international peace site, and as part of that, we recite the peace pledge before school each day. The pledge reads: ‘I am a peacemaker. I treat myself and others with respect.  I listen.  I share.  I care for the earth, air, water, plants and animals. I am important to this very big world.  I know peace begins with me.’  I can’t think of a better way to honor that pledge than to gather clothing items and raise money to help serve families halfway around the world! Nice work, Benjamin! Peace does begin with you as you take on this noble cause.”

Benjamin and Aneta have been tracking their project’s fundraising efforts all week. “I keep asking my mom about the progress,” said Benjamin. “And every time I ask, I am surprised how far beyond our goal we are. Even my friends joined my team to help me with my project! It is so tough to imagine what refugee kids are going through, both emotionally and physically. It feels good to be able to help them.” 

For more information about Benjamin’s project, or to get involved, email Aneta Mendoza: anetabrzoza@gmail.com 

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