By Carissa Marsh

In a world too often filled with pain and suffering, a group of high school kids in Simi Valley and Moorpark are dedicated to making the planet a more peaceful place.

These teens are part of Interact, a program of Rotary International that derives its name from the words international action.

And that’s exactly what they do. Through local clubs, the students work together to further the group’s mission of service and international understanding.

With the assistance and sponsorship of the Simi Valley and Simi Sunset Rotary clubs, the Interactors, as the club members are called, focus on promoting peace and literacy in developing countries and raising awareness and respect for cultural differences.

“It also serves as a means to express their gratitude to our troops who protect our right to pursue peace and literacy,” said Donna Prenta, Rotary District 5240 Interact Chair and advisor to the High School at Moorpark College club.

The clubs sponsor care packages for deployed troops in Iraq and Afghanistan through the Simi Valley-based nonprofit For The Troops.

In addition, the Interactors have raised thousands of dollars by selling green wristbands at community and Rotary events.

The proceeds raised last year were donated to the Piyali Learning Center in Calcutta, India, a project of PACE Universal, which was founded by Rotarian Deepa Willingham.

Interact members are also sponsoring two girls, who would otherwise be sold into slavery, to attend the school, Prenta said.

Following the belief that eradicating illiteracy will go a long way toward spreading peace, the Interactors have also contributed to the LaJolla Golden Triangle Rotary Club School in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, which serves 5,000 refugee children, including 1,500 Muslim girls, Prenta said.

“These young folks have done projects around the globe,” she said.

For all of their international efforts, the Interact clubs of Simi Valley High School, Royal High School, Santa Susana High School and the High School at Moorpark College, as well as the Simi Valley Community Interact Club, were honored March 19 at the Simi Valley Library.

U.S. Rep. Elton Gallegly (RSimi Valley) awarded the clubs special congressional recognition for their ambassadorial contributions to promote peaceful coexistence throughout the world.

Ken Kolz, president of the Rotary Club of Simi Valley, presented the clubs with the commendation on Gallegly’s behalf.

“These young people have been raising a lot of money and giving it back,” Kolz said.

Jarrod DeGonia, Rotarian advisor to the Simi High club as well as district director for Assemblyman Cameron Smyth, agreed.

“It really is all of your guys’ hard work and leadership . . . that has made this all come together,” DeGonia said, also presenting each club with a resolution from Smyth. “Your work is the reason why we’re here today.”

Mayor Bob Huber, a past president of the Rotary Club of Simi Valley, was also on hand to recognize and thank the students.

“Your sales efforts were awesome. The city is very proud of all of you,” said Huber, who served as the first advisor for the Interact Club at Simi High years ago. “Interact is near and dear to my heart and I know how hard you work. Congratulations on a job well done.”

Though the day was about showing appreciation to the young philanthropists, the Interactors weren’t done giving back. After receiving their certificates, they presented a $1,000 check to actor Isaiah Washington to help build a school in rural Sierra Leone.

Washington—best known for his role on “Grey’s Anatomy”— founded The Gondobay Manga Foundation in 2006 after he discovered his direct genetic link to the Mende people of Sierra Leone. The foundation advocates cooperative planning to improve the lives of the people of the small African nation.

The Interact clubs intend to be ongoing sponsors and help the Sierra Leone school become selfsustaining. Their next goal is to assist the school with acquiring a herd of goats as well as the supplies necessary to build and grow their own school garden.

“Thank you for all of your efforts in promoting literacy,” Samantha Snyder, president of the Royal High club, told Washington. “We are so pleased to be joining your efforts.”

After the check presentation, Washington spoke to the small group of Interact leaders, encouraging them to stay passionate about international affairs.

“When I look at you guys I feel like I’m looking at myself,” he said. “Don’t let anyone make you feel bad for being concerned about your fellow man and woman outside of your community, outside of your block, outside of your church or your university. It’s a very big world out there and there’s a lot going on.”

He also spoke about Sierra Leone, a very poor country with a high mortality rate. He said the children there aren’t getting everything they need, and simply providing food and clothing is not enough. They need clean water and healthcare.

“No matter how many school buildings I build there, if they don’t have clean water . . . then they’re not raising healthy kids,” he said.

Washington said he’s thrilled to partner with the Interactors, telling them their donation would “hit the ground immediately” and make an impact.

“That $1,000 is going to go so far,” he said. “Imagine $100 feeding 300 people.”

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