A high school car wash fundraiser to support a South African teacher’s salary earned $2,440 in cash on Friday, with more donations expected through an online Venmo link.

The funds directly support Mr. Mgoqi, one of only three maths and science teachers at Ntsika Junior Secondary School in Grahamstown, South Africa. Without his instruction, students at the township school would likely not be able to complete the standardized exams needed to pursue higher education.

Henry Berezay, one of the Jackson Hole seniors who organized the fundraiser, likened it to taking the AP calculus test without the help of his math teacher Jennifer Kelley.

“I know that without our wonderful teachers at the high school, there’s no chance that I’d be able to succeed in those tests,” Berezay said.

The Interact Club vice president was surprisingly effective in rallying members and friends to the fundraising effort, like junior Naomi Roper, who isn’t part of Interact but said as a member of Key Club, she felt a similar calling to help others. “They just said they needed more help, and I was like, ‘I’m free Friday,’ ” Roper said.

It helped that the car wash was held on a Flex Friday, the district’s reserved days for special instruction, teacher in-service and athletics.

Junior Isaac Larson was hard at work drying off a sheriff’s deputy SUV around 2 p.m. when a gasp went through his ranks. Snaking his way through the parade of Subaru Outbacks was Larson’s grandfather, Bob Scott, who rolled up in a TCSD school bus.

Carwash Fundraiser

Everyone’s eyes widened Friday afternoon as a school bus rolled into the parking lot looking for a wash. The high school Interact Club hosted a car wash for a fundraiser. All of the proceeds will go toward the salary of a math and science teacher in South Africa, Mr. Mgoqi, who is at risk of being let go due to budget cuts. Mgoqi teaches over 200 students at the Ntsika school, which is one of the top performing schools for math and science in its district.

Without hesitation, the students set to work with suds and spray, not letting the daunting challenge or the afternoon’s biting wind dampen their spirits.

Partially because of the pandemic, Interact hasn’t mobilized much in recent years. There was a clothing drive for the Wind River Reservation, and a color run that got canceled. Some of the students said they joined the club — the high school arm of Rotary Club — primarily because of its scholarship opportunities. But Friday’s fundraiser served as something they could finally all rally around.

Jackson teens met with Ntsika students on Zoom before planning the fundraiser to learn more about life in the township. They also competed in an international dance battle where Ntsika’s Mr. Johnson unequivocally proved that South Africans have the better moves.

Ntsika was the first beneficiary of a water filtration program backed by humanitarian Julia Heemstra, who lives in Jackson and is part of the Rotary Club. Since making the connection, Heemstra has helped revitalize the rural school in Grahamstown — and inspired students in Jackson Hole.

“The reality is that we’re all the same,” Heemstra said. “Whether you’re growing up in your township, or you’re growing up here in Teton County, you have the same desires and aspirations.”

Interact president David Danby said he was “psyched” to get to know the South African students a bit because it gave their efforts greater meaning. “We take a lot for granted here,” he said.

Senior Rachel Noyce said she could relate to the Ntsika students’ interest in math and science as someone planning to pursue medical school after playing college basketball. “We get to help them pursue their careers and their dreams,” she said.

Larson, who is running for Interact club president next year, used his videography skills to shoot a promo and build out a website for the fundraiser, where community members can learn more about Ntsika’s teachers and students and contribute funds even after the one-time car wash.

The goal was to raise $8,000, a year’s salary for Mr. Mgoqi, but Heemstra said additional dollars will help support him for years to come.

Rotary Club members pledged a $2,800 match to the students’ fundraiser, available online at TinyURL.com/ntsikafundraiser. The students themselves contributed $1,500 from Interact’s annual budget. Ace Hardware and Jackson Hole Marketplace have also pitched in.

Contact Evan Robinson-Johnson at 732-5901 or ERJ@jhnewsandguide.com.

Evan Robinson-Johnson covers issues residents face on a daily basis, from smoky skies to housing insecurity. Originally from New England, he has settled in east Jackson and avoids crowds by rollerblading through the alleyways.

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