LAS VEGAS (AP) - Teen pop icon Justin Bieber plans to perform a private Christmas concert Friday morning for an east Las Vegas elementary school known for providing needy students’ families with food, clothes, money for utility bills _ and just about everything in between.
The 17-year-old star’s concert, featuring songs from his holiday album “Under the Mistletoe,” at Whitney Elementary School comes after the singer pledged to donate $100,000 to the school.
After Bieber announced the gift and concert on a Nov. 1 episode of “The Ellen Degeneres Show,” the hundreds of students watching the taping from a multi-purpose room at their Las Vegas school erupted into screams and cheers. One girl is seen jumping up and down, and school officials say some of the students burst into tears of joy.
“For the kids, it shows that someone loves them and cares about them to follow up,” Principal Sherrie Gahn told the Las Vegas Sun after the taping. “When you live in an existence where everything seems so hopeless, it’s an amazing gift they will never forget. It’s beyond their wildest dreams.”
Whitney Elementary was first featured on “The Ellen Degeneres Show” in September. The episode highlighted how the school provides a food pantry, clothes closet, free haircuts and literacy training for students’ families.
Gahn said more than 85 percent of the school’s 600-plus students receive free or reduced lunch. The school also has one of the highest homeless student populations in the Clark County School District.
Gahn, who said she used to see students pocketing ketchup packets from the cafeteria in hopes of having dinner at night, told “The Ellen Degeneres Show” she made a pact with families after she arrived about eight years ago. “I’ll pay your electrical bill, your utilities, I’ll give you food or clothes, whatever you need, as long as you give me your child and then help raise that child as a person of character,” she said.
Families at the school told the show Gahn has stayed true to her promise. One girl said Gahn provided her with a bed. A mother said the principal bought her son glasses. Another mother said the school provided her children with Christmas presents when she planned to skip the gift giving.
Gahn said most of the donations come from individuals or businesses, and she said the show has brought an outpouring of support from across the country. The school also posts a “wish list” on its website, asking for granola bars, pop-top cans of soup and other non-perishable foods that homeless students can eat for dinner or over the weekend.
Bieber’s gift matches a $100,000 donation from Target that was announced on the September TV special about the school. That money is set aside to start an after-school program and continue providing services to struggling families.
“My biggest motivator for the kids and the thought and the hope that they don’t have to live in this existence when they grow up _ that they break the cycle,” Gahn said.
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