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Students' March Madness Bracket Supports Charities in Appalachia

When Austin Cortney and Griffin Wong, both A&S ’17, decided to make their own March Madness bracket with over 50 of their closest friends, they knew they wanted to donate some of the money from the endeavor to a charitable cause. Having both just returned from trips to Wheeling, WV and Roanoke, VA respectively with the Appalachia Volunteers program, the logical solution was to offer the funds to a charity serving each of the communities they had visited.

“Anyone who knows us knows our love for college basketball. We thought, why not make a huge bracket with over fifty people for March Madness?” said Cortney. “Having just come back from Appalachia, we thought we could make it even better by donating some of the funds to charities down there, while sharing with our friends at BC the experiences we had had on our trips."

One of the organizations benefitting from Cortney and Wong’s fundraising efforts is Appalachian Outreach, Inc. (AOI), based in Glen Dale, WV. The organization was co-founded by two women named Rose Hart, executive director, and Diane Reineke, and its mission is to gather and distribute necessary materials—from furniture, to clothing, to toys, to household appliances—to people in the community of Wheeling and the entire state of West Virginia who have been affected by poverty and destruction of their homes due to flooding.

Cortney, back right, working at AOI with his group of Appalachia Volunteers.  Photo courtesy of Austin Cortney

Cortney, back right, working at AOI with his group of Appalachia Volunteers.
Photo courtesy of Austin Cortney

“Because of the mountaintop removal coal mining that is going on in West Virginia, even minor rain or snowfall has the potential to cause widespread flooding and destruction,” explained Cortney, who visited Wheeling, WV and worked with AOI over spring break. “When these people have nothing left, Appalachian Outreach helps to reduce the burden of poverty and loss of dignity they are experiencing through no fault of their own.”

The other beneficiary of the money from the bracket is The CAFÉ of Roanoke, VA, which is an acronym for “Cultural Arts for Excellence.” The organization is an after-school program for kids in the community with an emphasis on art, where they can express their creativity while being cared for when their parents are at work. Run by the Kingdom Life Ministries International Church under director Donna Robinson, the program serves children who may be troubled based on the underprivileged economic background that many of them come from.

“The program offers an opportunity for artwork and creativity, as well as tutoring services and a nutritious snack or meal after school,” said Wong, who worked with The CAFÉ on his spring break Appalachia trip. “It even incorporates subjects such as public speaking and painting, using art as a way to build up the kids’ self-esteem.”

Wong, middle right, and group in Roanoke, VA. Photo courtesy of Griffin Wong

Wong, middle right, and group in Roanoke, VA.
Photo courtesy of Griffin Wong

While the bracket was put together in a very short amount of time, Cortney and Wong managed to raise close to $1,000 total in the pool, with each person donating $10 to enter into the bracket, and some even chipping in a little extra to support the cause. The funds will be awarded to the winners of the bracket next week, and the remaining money will be split evenly between Appalachian Outreach, Inc. and The CAFÉ.

“Although we know we won’t be able to give a life-changing amount of money to either of the organizations, it was more about supporting the causes and the idea of donating than the money itself,” said Wong. “In addition, the promotion of the cause here at BC can help spread the world about the issues affecting the Appalachian region, and the amazing work that these organizations are doing to improve the conditions there.”

“A common theme that we both experienced on our trips was that the organizations where we volunteered were in need of two things: young people, and financial support,” added Cortney. “We thought that whatever we could donate would make at least a small impact to the charities and let their cause be heard here at home.”

Cortney and Wong are proud of the successful outcome that they were able to achieve with their fundraising in such a short amount of time, and hope to recreate it during next year’s March Madness on an even greater scale.

For more information or to donate to Appalachian Outreach, Inc. and/or The CAFÉ, please visit the following links:

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Native Massachusetts girl with an addiction to coffee in all its glorious forms. In love with cities she’s not yet visited & shamelessly obsessed with anything J. Crew. Proudly owning the term ‘basic.'