Student Starts Effort To Help Classmates, Staff Affected By Fires

By Eloísa Ruano González The Press Democrat, Santa Rosa, Calif.

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) A student entrepreneur who has already found success with her booming Cheesecake business in using her entrepreneurial skills to help raise money for people affected by last month's devastating wildfires.

Santa Rosa, Calif.

Anamaria Morales, the 19-year-old who propelled herself into business studies as the "College Confectionista," a cheesecake business she started in her senior year at El Molino High School, is now whipping up a project to help Santa Rosa Junior College students and employees affected by last month's wildfires.

The teenage entrepreneur is selling baseball caps that read "SO-CO STRONG," which she designed to raise money for low-income Hispanic students, faculty and staff members who lost homes in the fires.

Morales said she wanted to help low-income students after noticing some hadn't received much aid despite losing everything in the fires.

"I myself am a low-income Hispanic student. I know money is hard to find, especially in college," said Morales, who's in her second year at the junior college.

She drove around to various fire stations to have firefighters sign most of the 100 forest green-colored hats she had made, which she's selling for $25. She said the hats are more "personal," with signatures from the men and women who risked their lives battling the blazes.

While the fires spared her Healdsburg home, she said some of her relatives weren't as fortunate. "An aunt and uncle lost their home. Another aunt lost her home, and (I have) another uncle who lost his home. There was a lot devastation...," Morales said.

The fires destroyed the homes of 63 faculty, staff members and administrators. About 900 students also lost their homes, said Breanne Beseda, communications director for the SRJC Foundation, which set up a fire relief fund. It has raised more than $440,000 for those who lost homes, including $100,000 each from the foundation and the North Bay Fire Relief fund, spearheaded by the Redwood Credit Union, state Sen. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg, and The Press Democrat.

Beseda said $500 grants have been awarded to about 570 students and 60 employees so far, although applications and payments continue to be processed. She said they're continuing to take donations from individuals, organizations and colleges from across the country and overseas to assist those who lost homes.

"We're always looking for additional funding," Beseda said. "There is funding to cover those who applied, (but) we would want to give them more if we can."

The SRJC Inter-Club Council also is putting on a fundraiser Dec. 6 to assist students still awaiting for some relief. The clubs will be selling buttons, shirts and stickers, as well as giving away food and bicycles to students impacted by the fires, said Joshua Pinaula, who chairs the Inter-Club Council.

Beseda said it's encouraging to see students like Morales step up to support students and staff impacted by the fires. "This crisis has brought the community together in a way that is really inspiring," she said.

Students have to replace laptops, school supplies and books -- costs that can add up quickly. Textbooks alone cost a lot of money, Morales said.

"My math book was $350," she said.

Morales said she'll be working with the college's scholarship office to distribute in early January the funds she raises through the hat sales. The applications will be offered in English, as well as Spanish for students and staff members who feel more comfortable filling them out in their native language.

Morales hopes to raise at least $2,500, money she'd like to see students "reinvest it back into their education, if that means buying a new laptop or putting gas in their car to get to school."

"Education is your ticket to living a better life," said Morales, who's the first in her family to go to college -- a goal she was able to reach after launching her cheesecake business.

Morales, who hopes to get into the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley, added, "I want to inspire (others), particularly minorities."

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