Teens ditch cell phones for the day to help soldiers

Give up your cell phone? In high school -- voluntarily? Oh come now! But wait, they'll do it Friday in Lake Orion, Mich.

Give up your cell phone?

In high school?


As unthinkable as it may seem, student leaders at Lake Orion High School hope as many as 2,000 classmates will do just that today.

"We're shooting for at least 80% participation" from the 2,350-member student body as well as from some teachers and other staff, said senior Cooper Hazel, 17, co-chair of the fund-raising event called "Cell Out for Soldiers."

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The event aims to provide free cell-phone minutes to U.S. military personnel overseas so soldiers, sailors and others can call home more often. For every Lake Orion High student who gives up his or her phone for the day, the student activities fund will send a dollar to a charity in suburban Atlanta that coordinates the effort nationwide, said Lori Hogan, faculty adviser to the school's student leadership group.

"We've got 90 kids coming in early at 6 a.m., and at 7 we'll start logging in the phones," Hogan said. It's an unnerving proposition for youths to give up their precious handfuls of high-tech communication, "so our focus is on guaranteeing the security of these phones," she said.

Each phone will be tucked into an individual bubble-wrap bag with a see-through ID slip, showing the name of its owner, and then they're be loaded into plastic bins and literally guarded all day, she said.

"We want to ensure the students' confidence that no one will take their phone or fool with it," Hogan said.

It's Lake Orion High School's third year for mustering "Cell Out for Soldiers," and each year the participation grows, said student leaders.

"It's really becoming a community event," said co-chair Jordyn Marchese, 17, of Lake Orion.The result is that more money is raised, more local businesses join the effort as sponsors to defray costs, and — frankly — a little more peer pressure is exerted on skeptical ninth-graders and other reluctant parties to participate, Marchese said.

In return for handing over a phone, each student participant gets a special T-shirt to wear for the day, marking him or her as a person who can't be phoned or texted but who could actually respond to, well, an ordinary, umm, face-to-face conversation.

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"I got my first phone at the end of elementary school," and so spending a day without it feels strange — but also, strangely freeing, said Jackie Gingell, 18, a senior and another co-chair of the event.

"I found out, I really don't have a problem talking to people face-to-face," she said.

At the nonprofit Cell Phones for Soldiers, in Alpharetta, Ga., Executive Director Rob Bergquist said Thursday he was well aware of Lake Orion High School and its generosity. Since 2004, the organization has provided more than 300 million minutes of free talk time, according to its website.

"I've spoken to the students there a few times, by Skype actually, about the importance of what they're doing and what it truly means to us and to the military members," Bergquist said Thursday.

"With the money they send our way, we purchase 60-minute calling cards and we send those cards to active-duty military members all around the world," he said.

The group also accepts donations of cell phones for recycling, which provides additional revenue to the charity. But Bergquist said he knows better than to expect any Lake Orion students to give up their texting machines — OMG — permanently.

Chuckling, he said: "No, we're certainly not expecting any phones coming from their program."