Reaching out to help students is what Brendan Slocumb does best.
A string instrument teacher at Lee High School, Slocumb has filled the walls of his office with pictures and drawings from the teens he sees daily. Along the floor are buckets of pennies and boxes filled with envelopes waiting to be stamped so he can help provide an education for children on the other side of the world.
Inspired by a man he met while touring the Philippines with the Capital Youth Chamber Ensemble last summer, Slocumb has created Hands Across the Sea, a non-profit organization designed to raise money to benefit the Berea School of Arts and Sciences in Manila.
“The Berea School is for at-risk kids. It teaches them the core stuff but with a focus on music,” said Slocumb, a 13-year teacher within Fairfax County Pubic Schools, who has been at Lee for the past eight years.
While in Manila for a few days last summer, Slocumb met Jeff Lallaban, a 26-year-old man who supported his parents and four siblings on the $4 he made as a masseuse every week.
“I was just in disbelief,” said Slocumb, reclining on a couch in his practice room.
After returning to visit with Lallaban for a few days, Slocumb sent him all the Filipino currency he had in his pocket after returning to Virginia- total of about $35, Slocumb said. He enclosed his e-mail address in the letter he sent, asking for Lallaban to write to him when he received the envelope.
“He e-mailed me and said he was able to pay bills, buy daily needs and stuff to build an extra room on their house with the money we gave him,” Slocumb said. “I started thinking that if $35 could do that, imagine what we could do with $50 or $100 or $1,000. We spend more than that on gas weekly here.”
SLOCUMB BEGAN filling out the 28 pages of paperwork necessary to create a 501 c 3 nonprofit organization earlier in the school year. While he’s awaiting final approval, he’s begun to recruit some of his students to help organize Hands Across the Sea’s first fund-raiser, a day-long music festival on Saturday, June 17 at Springfield Plaza.
“I’m in this band called Geppetto’s Wüd, and every year for the past three years we’ve had this big concert called Geppetto’s Wüdstock,” Slocumb said. “This year, we’re going to send all the proceeds from the day to the Philippines to help buy musical instruments for the Berea School. They only have one piano, three guitars and a few other instruments for the whole school.”
His first fund raiser, in which students brought in spare change, raised $600 for the Lallaban family, which Slocumb used to buy “three huge boxes of clothes, supplies and everything they could possibly need.”
The June 17 fund raiser will feature more than a dozen local bands, plus a car wash, with all proceeds and donations going to Hands Across the Sea.
“We’re going to have people voting for their favorite band by giving donations in their band’s name,” Slocumb said. At the end of the event, all the donations will be given in the name of the band who raised the most money, he said.
“Hopefully, we’ll have food and games and a moon bounce, things like that,” he said. “I’m also trying to get someone from the Filipino embassy to come out and talk a little about the country.”
While the overall goal of the day is to raise $15,000, Slocumb said he has another benchmark to achieve: he’s hoping to sing the Filipino National Anthem.
MANY OF Slocumb's students have already signed up to help out, either by washing cars, setting up the concert or spreading the word about the event.
“It’s a good cause. He’s done so much for us, I’m willing to do anything to help him,” said student Kevin Katindig. A Filipino native himself, Katindig has been a student of Slocomb’s for eight years and said he’s looking forward to helping his fellow Filipinos.
The event takes place between prom and graduation, but Katindig said he’s more interested in helping out.
“Prom and all that stuff is superficial compared to helping all these people,” he said.
Lee senior Joseph Kim was on the trip to the Philippines with Slocumb last year, and he was affected by the plight of the Filipino people as much as his teacher.
“I’d like to help the people that are in need more than others. I try to get involved in as many things as I can,” Kim said.
He and Katindig agreed that their respect for Slocumb made it easy to help out.
Slocumb’s enthusiasm and belief that the “good people in the world” will help him reach his goal of raising between $50,000 and $60,000 this year could also be a factor.
“This can change people’s lives permanently,” he said. “If everything works out, once a year we’ll be able to go over once a year and oversee the distribution of everything ourselves.”
Tuition for a semester at the Berea School is only $260 U.S. per semester, and one of Slocumb’s first priorities is to send one of Lallaban’s brothers to school there with this year’s donations.
“We want to take care of the easy stuff, like sending them to school and helping them get a better place to live, so they can work on the harder stuff,” Slocumb said.
Twenty-one students are signed up to assist Slocumb with the fund raiser, their names and duties scrawled in red marker on a large whiteboard along one side of his room. With a little over a month to go before the concert, he’s hoping to enlist more of the community around him to give back to a village on the other side of the ocean.
“The way I figure it, people need help and if I’m not going to help them, who is,” Slocumb said. “I know we can raise $50,000 by July 1 because I know there are some very, very nice people in the world. I know they’ll help us.”