Bieber stages concert at low-income Vegas school
LAS VEGAS (AP) — It was clear at one Las Vegas school Friday morning that the mid-December chill wasn't cooling down Bieber fever.
Second-grader A'mya Saulsberry and third-grader Mia Godinez were wearing glittery red hair bows and T-shirts emblazoned with teen pop icon Justin Bieber's face as they walked with their grandma to Whitney Elementary School, where Bieber was set to perform a private Christmas concert in the afternoon.
"When he noticed how kind we were and how gentle we were, he wanted to come," Godinez explained, as a Bieber ballad fit for a sixth-grade slow dance piped from campus loudspeakers toward the run-down apartment complexes in the neighborhood.
The 17-year-old star's concert came along with a $100,000 donation to Whitney Elementary, which has garnered publicity for providing needy students' families with food, clothes, money for utility bills — and just about everything in between.
After Bieber announced on a Nov. 1 episode of "The Ellen Degeneres Show" that he would visit to perform songs from his album "Under the Mistletoe," the hundreds of students watching the taping from their Las Vegas school erupted into screams and cheers. One girl is seen jumping up and down, and school officials said 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-price 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.
Shirley Hernandez, who was walking her granddaughters to school Friday, described the school as special and choked up when she said the students at Whitney deserved the concert.
"It's the best Christmas present they'll ever have," she said.