Southern Student Starts Nonprofit, Plans to Raise Money to Build Schools in Africa

Mar 28, 2018
Supplied photo With the help and support of his parents, Christine (left) and Robert (right), Henry Sodt recently set up the non-profit Raising Hands and Hopes and plans to raise money to help Pencils of Promise build schools in third-world nations.

Henry Sodt is passionate about the need for educational facilities and materials in third-world countries. So much so, he started up a local nonprofit organization to be an advocacy partner to internationally known Pencils of Promise.

“I had known about Pencils of Promise for a long time, and the work they do is inspiring,” said Sodt, a junior at Southern Regional High School who late last year received 501(c)(3) status for Raising Hands and Hopes. “I once watched a two-minute YouTube video of the Pencils of Promise founder and the impact they’re making in other countries, and it changed my life. Seeing the footage of children in third-world countries who have nothing now receiving a quality education really struck me.”

The primary function of Raising Hands and Hopes will be to advocate for quality education for children in third-world nations as well as raise money to make that possible, mainly through Pencils of Promise’s school-build program.

“They build schools, support teachers for those schools and give the children the materials they need to become better educated,” the Manahawkin resident said. “I took a pre-college course at Brown University, developed an idea for a nonprofit, and the professor encouraged me to pursue it. So I dove into this head first.”

Prior to doing all the paperwork and setting up all requisite legalities for Raising Hands and Hopes – his mom, Christine, has a law degree and helped a lot with that part, while his dad, Robert, came up with the name – Sodt contacted Pencils of Promise to learn more about the school-build program and how much it cost to fund a complete school project in Ghana. He found out that for $50,000, Pencils of Promise can build and fund two school projects in the western African nation.

“It’s going to take some time to raise $50,000, but that’s the first goal,” said the teen. “Patience is key, but we’re going do as much as possible to raise the money. Once we raise the money, it will go right to Pencils of Promise.”

The first step in raising those funds begins with a Running For Recess 5K, scheduled for Saturday, May 12, at 9 a.m. The 5K run/walk will start at the Ship Bottom municipal ramp on West 10th Street. Sodt presented his plan for the 5K to the Ship Bottom Council in December and was given the green light. Early registration began last month and the fee is $20 per competitor.

“I’ve been to a bunch of half-marathons because my mom and sister (Emily) run in them,” he said. “I’m not a runner, but I know the running community is a very supportive one, and Ship Bottom is a perfect place for a 5K. I’m hoping a lot of runners will come out and get behind our effort to give children in Ghana better opportunities for education.”

In addition to the 5K, the young man who has a knack for starting up things – he earlier this year restarted his school’s Japanese Club after it had taken a brief hiatus – expects to sell Raising Hands and Hopes merchandise to raise more funds. Beyond May 12, though, he’s not yet sure the direction of the organization’s fundraising efforts.

“There’s definitely going to be more events planned, but I want to get through the first one before I think about the next one,” he said. “And once we get the first $50,000, we’ll see what the next goal will be.”

Nonetheless, Henry has taken tackling the problem of educating youngsters in third-world nations to heart.

“I know, in some places in America, children are struggling to receive good educational opportunities,” he said. “But the scale of poverty in Africa and other third-world nations is on a whole difference level. Many children in Africa have to walk 5 miles just for clean water. In Ghana, most children have almost no access to good schooling. It breaks my heart to see so many children with so much potential who don’t have a chance at a better education.”

To register for the Running For Recess 5K, visit For more information about Raising Hands and Hopes, find it on Facebook or Instagram, or check out Information about Pencils of Promise can be found at

— David Biggy

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