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Raising Money to Educate Children

Project LIFE 2K/5K is Sunday, April 22.

(From left) are Hollow Trunk board members Shriram Sundararaman, TJ; Shannon Parker, Fairfax High; Sarah Haug, Westfield High; Priya Khanna ,Westfield; Christina Kim, Fairfax; Wills Johnston, TJ; Diana Saffarini, Chantilly High; Miles Ransom, Chantilly; Noor Siddiqui, Robinson Secondary; and Maddie Welch, Chantilly.

(From left) are Hollow Trunk board members Shriram Sundararaman, TJ; Shannon Parker, Fairfax High; Sarah Haug, Westfield High; Priya Khanna ,Westfield; Christina Kim, Fairfax; Wills Johnston, TJ; Diana Saffarini, Chantilly High; Miles Ransom, Chantilly; Noor Siddiqui, Robinson Secondary; and Maddie Welch, Chantilly. Photo Contributed

Priya Khanna is still in high school, but she’s the chairman and CEO of a nonprofit organization, The Hollow Trunk. Comprising students from Westfield, Chantilly, Fairfax and Thomas Jefferson high schools, plus Robinson Secondary, it raises money for worthy causes.

The Hollow Trunk is currently raising funds to educate poor children in India. So this Sunday, April 22, at 8 a.m., it’s holding a 2K/5K Fun Run/Walk, outside the Cub Run Rec Center. Cost is $25 for the 5K; $20 for the 2K. Walkers are welcome in both events; registration information is at www.thehollowtrunk.com. Race-day registration begins at 7:45 a.m.

The USATF-certified course starts in the rec center’s parking lot, goes down Stonecroft Boulevard, loops around Conference Center Drive and returns on Stonecroft to the start. The top three male and female finishers will receive gift cards donated by local merchants and restaurants. All participants will get commemorative T-shirts.

The Hollow Trunk was established in 2009 and, since then, has donated almost $2,000 to the Alzheimer's Association, more than $4,000 to the Red Cross' Haitian Relief Efforts, nearly $1,000 to INOVA Fairfax Children's Hospital and about $1,000 to CrisisLink, a suicide-prevention and awareness organization.

The Hollow Trunk is also helping educate a young girl in Afghanistan. "We selected her through an application process," said Khanna, a Westfield senior. "We bought her a laptop and are funding four years of online education for her."

Khanna has volunteered at a home for Alzheimer’s patients since 2007 and, years ago, she wanted to hold a fundraiser for them. "I got friends to help but, as youth, we ran into so much red tape," she said. "So we formed The Hollow Trunk as a channel through which we could work to make a difference in the community."

The organization is run and managed by a board whose members all live in the Chantilly/Centreville area. Its name comes from the famed novel, "To Kill a Mockingbird." During the story, character Boo Radley leaves gifts for the local children in a hollow tree trunk. So, said Priya, "We adopted that name because we believe the best gifts come from unexpected places."

In April 2011, The Hollow Trunk launched Project LIFE (Leading Initiatives to Foster Education) to help improve educational and recreational facilities for children throughout the world. "Volunteering and donations provide short-term help for various needy organizations," said Khanna. "But our vision was to identify and build/execute hands-on projects that can last a lifetime."

The first Project LIFE fund-raiser was last year’s 2K/5K, and it yielded more than $2,000 for the Casa Guatemala Orphanage for structural renovations and to furnish teaching and recreational supplies. This year’s beneficiary will be the Social Outreach Foundation (SOF), a school that provides primary education for underprivileged children in India.

"We had the chance to see this school in India last summer because it’s near my grandparents’ home, and we were inspired by the eagerness of those kids to learn," explained Khanna. "It was started by local moms to educate their children through the fifth grade. But then most would return to the slums. We hope to raise enough money to provide scholarships so they can continue their education past fifth grade."

So she’s hoping lots of people register for the race or donate to The Hollow Trunk. "Our goal is to raise $5,000," said Khanna. And in India, she added, that money will go a long way. "It only costs $100 for one kindergarten child to go through one grade there – and that includes tuition fees, textbooks, uniforms and meals."

The Hollow Trunk board also plans on visiting the school and its headmaster in July and acting as ambassadors to build partnerships with the local community. And even after she graduates from Westfield, Khanna plans to hold a 5K every year for a different beneficiary.

First, though, she and her board members are focusing on this Sunday’s race. "We want to attract a lot of support for this wonderful cause," she said. "So we hope people can rally up a group of friends and walk to promote literacy."

Those unable to participate, but wanting to contribute to the project, may make tax-deductible donations. Send checks payable to The Hollow Trunk to 5428 Chandley Farm Circle, Centreville, VA 20120.

For more information about The Hollow Trunk or to become a Project LIFE sponsor, go to www.thehollowtrunk.com or email thehollowtrunk@gmail.com.