Seth Scheeler and Kaitlynn Wernsing are getting a crash course in what it's like operating a nonprofit organization: fundraising, event planning, public speaking, media relations.
Add in deadlines, securing sponsors and raising awareness for the cause, and these two students from Gilbert's Highland High School should be veterans at it by the end of the school year.
Sixteen-year-old Scheeler and 17-year-old Wernsing are co-chairs for the Mesa/Gilbert chapter of the One Million Bones project, an effort to raise public knowledge about ongoing genocide in the world through the artful creation of one million bone pieces to display at the nation's capitol in 2013.
Scheeler, a junior, and Wernsing, a senior, decided to collaborate after they attended an event sponsored by Arizona State University's STAND (Students Taking Action Now Darfur) club at Mesa's Dobson High School. During the workshop, One Million Bones' national founder Naomi Natale shared her story.
"No one really knew what was going on," Wernsing recalled. "We were almost weirded out. There was a pelvis bone on stage with her ... (Natale) talked about how the bone is made of clay and represented the pelvic bone of a 28-year-old woman from Kenya."
The woman, who bore nine children, was a victim of genocide. Natale made this bone for her.
Wernsing said she was in tears by the end of Natale's speech. Both being artists, she and Scheeler decided this was an effort they wanted to help with.
They approached their art instructors at Highland and gave presentations to the clay classes.
"Lots of them gave us odd looks, like why would we be doing this with our time? Shockingly enough, lots of students didn't know there was a genocide going on now, let alone multiple. It was really, really hard to get them to understand what was going on. Once they got on they realized, ‘We need to get on this and this is a great way to do it.' They were excited to do their part," Scheeler said.
The two hope to create 1,000 bone pieces by the time Scheeler graduates. Their next step will be to reach out to other area high schools to participate. They want to put on a large-scale bone-making event in February.
But creating the bone pieces is just one part of their responsibility. For each bone they create, One Million Bones project is asking for a $5 donation. Plus, they have to raise money to purchase the clay to create the bones or get donations, Wernsing said.
"We're going to try bracelet sales, garage sales, car washes, anything to back up the fee for the bones," Wernsing said, adding that a 3K walk is being planned for May.
The two also have to figure out how to get the bone pieces fired in kilns and shipped to New Mexico, where they'll be stored until the unveiling.
Doreen Romney is the regional coordinator for Arizona's Darfur and Beyond chapter, another group trying to raise awareness of atrocities in Africa.
She is hoping other individuals will step forward to help make more bone pieces, perhaps at home parties. But the first step is spreading the word.
"We're trying to bring out the public awareness of the genocide going on right now, not just Darfur. There's one going on in the Congo," she said. "A lot of times when you talk to people, if I have my Darfur shirt on, they don't know what that is. They don't think of a genocide except the Holocaust. Rwanda happened and everyone said, ‘Never again. Why didn't we do anything about it?' But Darfur is happening now and we can do something about it. We need to raise the awareness."