August 12, 2015

Fund Raising Rides and Earthquake Relief: Teens Find Helping Others Changed Their Lives

BIKING TO RAISE FUNDS AND AWARENESS: Mark Petrovic, right, with his friend and colleague Alex Ju, set out on a bicycle ride to raise funds to help those with Pompe’s Disease. The boys raised nearly $4,000 on their recent expedition up the east coast.

BIKING TO RAISE FUNDS AND AWARENESS: Mark Petrovic, right, with his friend and colleague Alex Ju, set out on a bicycle ride to raise funds to help those with Pompe’s Disease. The boys raised nearly $4,000 on their recent expedition up the east coast.

Growing up healthy and secure with demanding schedules of school, sports, and other activities, Princeton teenagers can easily forget that there are those in less fortunate circumstances. But thanks, in part, to community service requirements by their schools, more young people are making the needs of others a priority. Among them are two local high school students, both of whom say their lives have been altered through recent efforts to help others.

“It made me consider how many things I take for granted,” said Mark Petrovic, a rising senior at Princeton High School who recently joined his friend Alex Ju on a fundraising bike ride from Princeton to Boston to raise money for Pompe’s Disease, which affects two of his classmates. “It was life-changing for me,” said Arya Jha, a rising sophomore at Princeton Day School who spent a week in Nepal helping those affected by last spring’s devastating earthquake there.

Pedaling for Pompe’s

The idea behind Mr. Petrovic’s bike ride was to raise not only funds, but also awareness of Pompe’s Disease. This rare, inherited and often fatal disorder disables the heart and skeletal muscles. Most patients are in wheelchairs and on life support, and medication can cost about $300,000 a year.

“There are two siblings in my school who have this disease, and I was in a class with one of them my freshman year,” said Mr. Petrovic, an experienced cyclist. “I had no idea about Pompe’s before I met them. It lingered in the back of my mind, and then the next year I started formulating this idea for the ride. These two students are wheelchair-bound, and one of them can’t talk. The other can do some movements with her hands and can speak a little bit. I wanted to help in any way I could.”

The boys made the fundraising trip last week, raising $3,735 on their five-day ride through New England. Mr. Ju’s father trailed them and carried their bags in his car. Most of the funds came from Church & Dwight, where Mr. Petrovic’s mother works; FlightCar, which is his brother’s company; NRG; and Genzyme, which makes a drug for treatment of Pompe’s. All proceeds will go to the United Pompe Foundation, which helps patients and their families with expenses their insurance may not cover.

People can still donate to the fundraising effort at gofundme/rideforpompe, Mr. Petrovic said. “This disease renders people pretty much unable to do anything. But every bit helps in raising awareness.”

Helping Out at the Source

Arya Jha has a special affinity for Nepal. So when she heard about the earthquake that ravaged the country last spring, she knew she had to do something. “My entire Dad’s side is from there,” said the 15-year-old. “So I felt like I owed it to my family and my origins and his origins to do whatever I possibly could to help.”

Ms. Jha brainstormed with her advisor at PDS and came up with the idea for a bake sale. She had to throw it together in just one day, but she managed. “Somehow, I baked like crazy and I got a lot of people to help,” she recalled. “I raised around $655 for Save the Children, which is the organization that helps orphaned children in Nepal.”

But it wasn’t enough. “I didn’t feel content with myself, because I wasn’t directly helping,” she said. “I started to email a bunch of organizations working actively in Nepal, like The Red Cross, Unicef, and some others. I got one back from the Association of Youth Organizations in Nepal. It was from the president of the organization, and he said “I want to work with you and could you come to Nepal and work in our office and see how you fit in and see how you fit in in the future.’”

After much deliberation, Ms. Jha’s parents agreed to let her go. “They decided to give me the chance to experience life outside the U.S. and also connect to my roots,” she said. “My parents were immigrants here, from India and Nepal. It was a hard decision for them. They didn’t sleep the entire time I was there.”

The fact that Ms. Jha spent part of the week staying with a distant cousin of her father helped ease her parents’ worries. She went to the organization the day after she arrived, and was warmly welcomed. “I was the only English speaker there. I could have worked in the fields with earthquake relief efforts building houses, but that would have required at least 10 days prior notice,” she said. “So I helped with reports that go out to the public to educate them about what’s going on. I updated their Facebook page and wrote reports.”

The experience had a huge impact on Ms. Jha. “Even though I didn’t get to work with real life struggling people, every time I went to work, on a motorcycle, we would always drive by big parks with tons of shelters filled with people. You feel like, ‘What am I doing with my life?’ One day I went in and saw kids playing with a soccer ball they made out of paper, having a great time. It hits you that you take life and the things you have for granted.”