A group of Valencia County youths are learning a new version to the old joke: “How do you get to Carnage Hall? Practice. Practice. Practice.” The new version is: “How do you get to Australia? Fund-raiser. Fund-raiser. Fund-raiser.”

Belen, USA Down Under, a non-profit organization, has set a goal of getting 26 dancers and their families to Australia in June 2003 to participate in the half-time show at Down Under Bowl XV.

“It’s going to cost $2,898 for eight days in Sydney and four days in Hawaii for each person making the trip. The adult rate is $500 more,” said Cyndi Sluder, a parent of one of the dancers. “That price covers the airfare, hotel, ground transportation, activities and meals for breakfast and dinner. All the kids will have to have money for will be lunches and souvenirs.

“We want this opportunity to teach our children about community service. We want them to experience that, if they work hard enough toward a goal, they can obtain it.”

“We want our kids to learn that just because you’re from a small town doesn’t mean you can’t dream and have those dreams come true,” said Stacy Johnston, chairman of Belen, USA Down Under.

Saturday, Aug. 3, is going to be one of many fund-raising days as the youth participate in tip day. They will be pumping gas and washing windshields at both Al’s Mini-Marts and carrying out groceries at Wal-Mart and VanWinkles (formerly IGA) for tips.

“We will also have a car wash at Auto Zone and Calvary Chapel Rio Grande Valley,” Sluder said. “All activities will have parental supervision.”

Another fund-raiser will be the sale of $20 gift certificates for community service from the youth. “A person can buy a gift certificate, and our children will come and do chores, such as housecleaning, washing their car, mowing their lawn and washing windows,” Sluder said.

Belen, USA Down Under will host a dance for all ages on Friday, Aug. 9, at the Belen Recreation Center. “We’re going to have games, pizza and a live DJ,” Sluder said. “Between 7 p.m. and 9 p.m., the dance will be geared for kids 14 years old and under. After 9 p.m., it will be for kids 15 years old and older.”

The group is also asking businesses to join in their quest by becoming sponsors.

“We are offering banners for our sponsors, which will be displayed at all of our fund-raising events,” said Sluder of the hemmed and grommeted banners created by Paul Sons Signs. “After June 2003, the banners will be given to the businesses for their use.”

There are five levels for sponsorship copper, bronze, silver, gold and platinum. Each level is reflected in a larger banner.

The copper level’s 2-foot-by-4-foot banner is available for a donation of $150 to $249. A bronze level donation of $250 to $499 will receive a 2-foot-by-6-foot banner.

A silver level donation of $500 to $749 will receive a 4-foot-by-4-foot banner. The gold level banner of 4-feet-by-6-feet comes with a donation of $750 to $999.

Platinum level sponsorship of $1,000 and up will receive a 4-foot-by-8-foot banner.

Current sponsors of Belen, USA Down Under are Paul Sons Signs, Custom LTD, Vaughn’s Earthly Creations, Belen Print Shop and Running Js Investment.

“We hope our community will join in helping these kids reach their dream of going to Australia,” said Sluder. “For more information, people may call Stacy Johnston at 261-2521.”

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Jane Moorman