The new year has just begun at Dwight-Englewood High School in Englewood, New Jersey, but two girls are already planning their big winter formal. You’re invited too—just bring a check to fight AIDS. The school’s powerful AIDS Awareness Club, which has 20 members and the support of the entire student body, will host its annual benefit dinner this winter. Last year, it raised $6,500 for local AIDS service organizations (ASOs). While hitting the books, the club’s presidents, seniors Kristiana Capati, 17, and Lorraine Boakye, 17, will hit up local fat cats too—seeking donations and spreading awareness.
With such boldfaced alumni as actress Brooke Shields and CNBC’s Lawrence Kudlow, Dwight-Englewood may seem more Lindsay Lohan than Larry Kramer. But the club has been minting junior activists for more than a decade. “People often think [AIDS] is just a problem in the third world,” says one of last year’s presidents, Allegra Stanek, 18, now a freshman at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.“They don’t remember it’s something that can affect everybody.”
Stanek, and her former copresident, Ramona Demme, also 18, now hope to inspire larger campuses. But they won’t forget the hours organizing jewelry and bake sales, toy drives for AIDS orphans in Thailand and even a push for condom machines in the school’s bathrooms (an endeavor quickly shot down by school administrators). Englewood may seem worlds away from the epidemic’s front lines, but Stanek and Demme’s passion isn’t surprising. Demme, now enrolled at Oberlin College in Ohio, is the daughter of Jonathan Demme, director of the iconic AIDS film Philadelphia. Stanek comes from a long line of doctors and nurses.
The challenge is on for the new presidents to continue to encourage their peers to pay attention and protect themselves. Darrell Tucci of New Jersey Buddies, an ASO the club funded, says people should be grateful for the students’ perseverance in raising awareness about an often controversial and overlooked subject.
“I think a lot of people who live in towns where the per capita income is high don’t feel the impact of HIV,” he says. Totally.