How a princess led to Rotary peace awards at two Boca high schools

It took an unexpected princess to inspire Rotary Club of Boca Raton Sunrise to honor students at two Boca high schools for their efforts to promote world peace.

The first Boca Raton Youth for Peace Awards honors outstanding peace builders in education. They were presented via Zoom to students and principals at Spanish River and West Boca high schools.

West Boca High’s Interact Club, a Rotary student group, was singled out for raising $3,000 to buy 150 solar lanterns for Sierra Leone families who use kerosene for lighting.

Club president Caroline Weinberg received the award from club president Norman Matus after introductions by former president Barry Mordis. Interact faculty advisor Hassan Jaddaoui and principal Edmund Capitano were also honored. “This shows how we are all interacting to make a difference,” he said.

Videos were shot at Boca Raton artist Yaacov Heller’s Garden of Humanity peace park that honors the victims and warns against genocides from the Holocaust to Armenia.

“How do you teach empathy?” Sunrise Rotary member Bogdan Paraschivoiu said from Spanish River High, where he teaches Holocaust Studies. The club’s Stand Up for Peace, Human Rights and Environment was honored with principal Allison Castellano. Students Ilonah Fernandes and Simmone Sallo were also singled out.

The club is “growing and flourishing” and students are certified after passing a course, he said as advisor. The students also made and showed a video challenging hate speech at school and on the Internet.

New peace initiatives by Rotary District 6930 led to the high school honors. District governor, Boca Downtown Club’s former president Michael Walstrom joined  the Zoom to congratulate the awardees.

Sunrise Rotarian Dr. Sandy Burkhart leads the district’s charge on the peace initiatives. Rotary International has started Youth & Peace in Action, he said. “Their goal is to recruit 100,000 high school students as peace builders and these clubs will be model clubs.”

Burkart’s role is where the princess comes in. He knows her father, from the West Virginia couple who adopted a bi-racial child as a toddler. Determined to research her roots and by this time an actress, Sarah Culberson discovered her birth grandfather was chief of the Mende tribe of 80,000 people in Bompe, Sierra Leone.

That makes her royalty and cemented her ties to the village. Here’s her joyous West African welcome:

Burkhart was inspired by what she did next, forming Sierra Leone Rising Foundation to continue rebuilding and supply the village with basic needs like fresh water.

“Disney has picked up Sarah’s story and will make it into a film,” Burkhart told Boca Voice.

By Marci Shatzman


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