in partnership
Bervell (far left), on his 2011 trip to Hobor Elementary School in Ghana. (Image: Hugs for Ghana)

Hugs for Ghana - in Snohomish

There seems to be something in the Washington water affecting our teenage boys. Last week we told you about 17-year-old Henry Miller from Deming, who started his own raw honey business. Today we bring you the story of 16-year-old Michael Bervell, whose desire to connect with his parent's homeland prompted him to create Hugs for Ghana, a charity out of Snohomish raising money to benefit Ghanaian youth.

Bervell, who lives in Snohomish with his parents, had the chance to visit Ghana in the summer of 6th grade. He describes his parents as two 'deeply cultural Ghanaian immigrants', so it was important to them and for him to visit their country.

"When I arrived there, it wasn't anything like I had imagined," said Bervell. "My mother's village had no running water and only had electricity in five houses. The local school could not afford books, equipment for sports teams, or a quality library to store the few books they did have."

Upon his return, Bervell decided to take action and mobilize his fellow students and his community to help. He and his family started Hugs for Ghana, an entirely student-run non-profit organization - with Bervell as its executive director.

Today, Hugs for Ghana has nearly 100 youth volunteers, and has fundraised over $50,000 worth of material gifts and monetary donations.

Additionally, every year Hugs for Ghana representatives travel to West Africa in order to hand-deliver thousands of supplies to children at Ghanaian hospitals, orphanages, and schools.

"In December 2013 I had the opportunity to travel to Ghana and establish eight school soccer teams at schools in my mother's village," said Bervell.

National organizations are taking note. Bervell and Hugs for Ghana were just recognized along with nine other youths throughout the U.S., U.K. and Canada in the Build-A-Bear Workshop Huggable Heroes program.

Other than trying to find charities with 'hug' in their name, Build-A-Bear Workshop looks for young people from around the world who are "charitable-minded" and making the world a better place. Hugs for Ghana and Bervell were a perfect fit.

Bervell will be getting $2,500 to give towards a charity of his choice (Hugs for Ghana of course), and $5,000 in scholarship money.

"I see myself hopefully attending college in Massachusetts, New Jersey, or here in Washington!" said Bervell. "Regardless of where I go, however, I would still love to continue my work with Hugs for Ghana."

Bervell hopes that this award will help show students that simple gifts can make an enormous difference.

"In the future, I hope to see the model set forth through "Hugs for Ghana" morph into "Hugs for (fill in the blank)," said Bervell. "My vision is that our three-step process (adopting a country, collecting needed items for that country, and hand-delivering these items to the adopted country) will be accessible to students around my state, country, and world."

Check out Hugs for Ghana on their website, where you can donate, volunteer or attend their next drive.