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Car washes offer kids charity-raising opportunity

Washing cars
Teen-agers in suburban Washington raise money for charity by washing cars.  

By Jonathan Aiken

(CNN) -- Adults who want to help out in the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks can open up their checkbooks and make a donation to charity, or roll up their shirt sleeves to give blood.

But what about children? Given their limited financial resources -- and being too young to donate blood -- it's much harder to find ways to help.

Enter the Welch sisters.

The two girls, 14-year-old Alana and 10-year-old Alyssa, have come up with a way for children to make a difference and literally help wash away the hurt. They started washing cars with their friends, and over the course of a weekend raised $8,000 for the American Red Cross.

Their efforts have inspired two congressional resolutions, declaring a nationwide effort called "Wash America." It's a way for young children and teenagers take their minds off all the horror and put their energies to use by washing cars for charity.

"It's fun and we are helping," says Alyssa Welch.

Gas station owner Raman Sethi, who let the children use his Annandale, Virginia, establishment for their fundraiser, also taught them a basic lesson in how to draw a crowd: Charge less for gas, and people will come. He dropped his prices, and so many came that in just a few hours he was doing double the usual volume at the pumps.

People have responded generously to the fundraiser. Dick Fonda, a local soccer coach, paid $1,000 for a car wash. "We're doing well," said Fonda. "We wanted to help people in worse circumstances than we were (in) right now."

The girls' father, Lt. Col. Tracy Welch of the Air National Guard, says he "chokes up" when he thinks about what his daughters are doing.

Welch had a close brush with the disaster at the Pentagon -- a meeting he was scheduled to attend at the Pentagon that morning was postponed or else he would have been at the building during the attack.

He says he is very proud of his daughters.

"I knew they were special, I knew every one of them had their gifts," says Welch. "It's something fantastic they have done, and I am very proud of them."

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