Tara Wilson, a 10th grader from Yokota High School, plays the harp during a benefit concert for tsunami victims at Tuesday night at Yokota Air Base, Japan.

Tara Wilson, a 10th grader from Yokota High School, plays the harp during a benefit concert for tsunami victims at Tuesday night at Yokota Air Base, Japan. (Val Gempis / Courtesy of U.S. Air Force)

YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — Yokota American Red Cross officials left Tuesday night’s “Special Benefit Concert” with $7,041 in donations for tsunami relief efforts in South Asia.

Yokota Cares, a group of representatives from base “helping agencies,” sponsored the concert at Yokota’s Officers Club. They raised more than $4,000 with a collection box in the Yokota Community Center and through concert ticket sales. Yokota East Elementary School students donated an additional $3,000 they raised with a weeklong “dollar drive.”

“We are so excited about the response to the event, the overwhelming response to the request for donations,” said Connie Harvey, volunteer co-chairwoman for Yokota’s American Red Cross Month. “Everyone dug deep in their pockets to try to make a difference in the lives of others.”

Yokota Cares officials asked Betsy Fitzgerald, a group volunteer and professional musician, to plan the event. Fitzgerald, also director of the Vivace Performing Arts Program at Yokota, enlisted 33 of her program’s youth to sing. She also recruited local professional singers and — when several performers became ill a week before the concert — dipped into the base’s talent pool at the last minute.

She said she was swamped with e-mail messages Wednesday from people who enjoyed the 90-minute concert.

“I wanted to pick uplifting music that would help pass the various messages of patriotism, remembering the people lost and those far away defending our country,” she said.

But the concert’s main goal was to raise money to aid relief efforts in South Asia; hundreds of thousands died and several hundred thousand still are homeless after a massive earthquake and subsequent tsunami Dec. 26.

During an intermission Tuesday night, members of Yokota East Elementary School’s student council presented the Red Cross with their donation.

Lillian Hiyama, school principal, said more than 600 students and about 80 staff members participated in the five-day dollar collection.

She said the idea wasn’t as much to raise money as to “have our kids involved in learning about caring and compassion.”

With some students’ parents deployed to assist in South Asia — and with the intense news coverage of the devastation — collecting money was “another way they (students) could feel connected.”

“The kids were so enthusiastic,” Hiyama said. “Here was a way for them to be involved … in this total worldwide effort.”

She said the total amount collected was read daily over school loudspeakers and the “kids got really motivated.”

During his remarks, Col. Mark Schissler, 374th Airlift Wing commander, said as one of those who deployed to the region for humanitarian relief efforts, he knows firsthand that “the need is severe.”

“I was struck by the devastation,” he said.

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