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T-shirt sales honor Va. Tech victims

On the initiative of a Bryn Mawr student, 33 colleges in Pennsylvania are raising money for a scholarship fund.

On the front , an orange ribbon and outline of Pennsylvania. The back has the word "United" and college logo.
On the front , an orange ribbon and outline of Pennsylvania. The back has the word "United" and college logo.Read more

What started as a bad day for Sarah Khasawinah, who was sick and facing two finals on April 16, got so much worse after she opened the e-mail from her sister about Virginia Tech, where a gunman had just massacred 32 students and professors.

"I was devastated," said Khasawinah, a soft-spoken Bryn Mawr College sophomore from Alexandria, Va. "I have a lot of friends going to Virginia Tech."

Three days later, Khasawinah - whose sister is not a Tech student - was channeling her grief into a plan that would focus on recovery rather than tragedy. She would raise money to honor each victim through the sales of special T-shirts.

With an ambitious goal of a $10,000 scholarship in each name, the effort would require more than her fellow students on the small Main Line campus. So Khasawinah organized a committee, called the Virginia Tech Solidarity Project, to seek support at all 139 colleges and universities in Pennsylvania.

Last week, the $10 white tees - printed in Tech's traditional orange and maroon - went on sale at 33 schools and through the social-networking Web site Facebook. On the shirts' front: a small outline of Pennsylvania around an orange ribbon. On the back: the word "United" above logos of the 33 participating colleges, including Drexel University, the University of the Arts, Harcum College, Widener University, and Haverford College.

Competing for attention at the end of the year is tough, said Khasawinah, 19, but the shirts appear to be hot items.

During dinner at Erdman Dining Hall at Bryn Mawr, a stream of customers stopped by her table to pick up shirts.

"I'm very proud of the fact that this is something that came out of Bryn Mawr," said Holly Gaiman, 21, a senior from Wisconsin. "I'm not only supporting Virginia Tech, I'm supporting my fellow students."

After getting Bryn Mawr's approval, Khasawinah, who is a supervisor in the dining hall, asked her boss, who customized the shirts his staff wears. She was referred to Poz Inc. in Media, which agreed to print the garments for free. The Solidarity Project pays $3 per item, plus shipping and handling. The first order was for 3,000, with about 100 going to each school.

"It's a great cause," said Michael Possenti, owner of Poz. With four days to print and ship them, "we put off other jobs to get this done."

The group will need to sell more than 53,000 to reach its goal, and Poz is "in for the whole journey," Possenti said.

Raising $320,000 is a lot, acknowledged Khasawinah, who is a math major and president of Bryn Mawr's Muslim Student Association. The group plans to offer the tees in September at campus bookstores and at back-to-school weekends that attract a lot of friends and family.

Originally, the Solidarity Project wanted to donate profits to the families of those who died. Then Virginia Tech announced plans to honor each victim with a $100,000 endowed scholarship fund. The T-shirt money will go toward that effort.

Donations to the Hokie Spirit Scholarship Fund have come from around the world, a Virginia Tech spokesman said. A Hokie Spirit Memorial Fund, to aid families of victims and those injured, has collected more than $1 million.

"The response has been overwhelming," said Mark Owczarski, the school's director of news and information. "Everything from classroom bake sales to T-shirt sales to corporate donations. The range of people participating has been truly inspirational."

Some snafus have arisen in the T-shirt drive. At California University of Pennsylvania, more than half the school's allotment was presold, but the shipment hadn't arrived when school ended Thursday. Orders will be shipped to students for free, said Nancy Pinardi, dean for student services.

"It's a very worthwhile cause," she said. "We want to give them as much help and as much support as we possibly can."

At Haverford, book-store manager Julie Summerfield saw someone wearing a "United" tee the day after a display was set up.

"We all feel for the families and students at Virginia Tech," she said. "And when students have good, kind ideas, we like to get behind them."

The project was a natural for Bryn Mawr, said Khasawinah, because of its tradition of community service. Her own commitment to charitable work won't end when she goes home Thursday. Khasawinah will spend the summer in Jordan, where her parents are from, volunteering at a women's shelter.

"People here are always looking for ways to help," she said.