Some teenagers turning 16 get a car and their driver's license or have big parties to celebrate. I had a Sweet 16 party, but the theme of my party was not about me.
I am passionate about a region in Africa called Darfur. The purpose of my party was to inform my friends and family of the 22 years of genocide in that country.
I have spent the past eight summers at a summer camp called URJ (Union for Reform Judaism) Camp Coleman in Cleveland, Ga. I live and breathe for this extraordinary place, this precious home away from home, where I first learned about Darfur.
Two summers ago, many informative speakers talked to us about what we can do to help the people of Darfur. When I returned home, I was determined to make a difference and have my voice heard. I registered at the Web site SaveDarfur.org, and began sending e-mails to President George W. Bush, telling him about the problems in Africa.
The idea to make my Sweet 16 party benefit Darfur came naturally. Instead of having people give me gifts, I wanted them to make donations at my party. The money would be directed to the organization Save Darfur. Most people spend between $10 and $20 on a birthday gift for a friend, so I hoped people would contribute that amount.
At first my father, Ira Piller, said 50 guests, maximum. However, I argued my case and we compromised on about 100 guests. My invitations were designed and made by my good friend Lauren Munns, one of the sports editors for The Pride, our yearbook at Countryside High School.
"Sammi is always talking about Darfur and recycling, so our class was not surprised to hear that her Sweet 16 theme was Darfur," Lauren said. "I remember the day that Sammi asked me if I would create the invitations for her party. She seemed so excited. I was, too, that she asked me."
This special event was for my 100 closest friends. I know that sounds like a high number, but I was inviting my camp friends as well as my school friends.
The day of the party, I was so nervous. I was with my camp friends Sara Freund, Sarah Mehan, Dara Bernstein, Alex Rosenbaum and Halli Cotner. Halli kept me company as I got my hair and makeup done. My stylist, Welly Garza, has always been so supportive.
"Sammi is my favorite teenager," Garza said. "She is sweet and kind, always smiling; she also babysits for my son. When Sammi informed me of what her party was about, I had so many questions, and Sammi answered them in such a knowledgeable way. Darfur is an important topic that everyone should know more about, and Sammi is just the girl to tell everyone."
I had butterflies in my stomach about the party, but I think it was very successful. I had the time of my life with the people closest to me — truly great friends. I raised about $1,000, which exceeded my expectations.
I could not have asked for a better birthday. The people who joined my celebration helped my wish come true to help Save Darfur!
Samantha Piller is a Countryside High School student and lives in Safety Harbor.