Utah high school students raise money for “Marvelous Ernie” to return to Africa

HYRUM, Utah — Banding together, Mountain Crest High School students are trying to help out their janitor, Ernie Abouo.

Abouo lost his parents in Africa after a civil war broke out 15 years ago. Fleeing to Utah with his wife and seven children, Abouo found a custodian job at Mountain Crest High School.

“God has plans and he gives me the custodian job,” said Abouo.

Students took Abouo in as their own family — more than 500 students a year walking the hallways Abouo has cleaned for the past 10 years.

“He’s always really nice to everyone and everybody knows him,” said Abbey Sagers, a freshman at Mountain Crest. “And if they don’t, they know of him and how amazing he is.”

When students heard Abouo’s mother-in-law was sick and that he didn’t have the funds to go visit her, they created a GoFundMe campaign: “Ernie to Africa.”

Selling wrist bands for $5 each, Sagers said she hopes to raise enough money to pay for two plane tickets to Africa, which costs more than $2,000.

The students put “Marvelous” on the wristbands — a nickname they gave Abouo from his positivity.

“Everybody who asks Ernie how his day is going, he always has a signature statement of marvelous,” said Sagers' mom Jamie.

Abouo said life is often difficult — moving from owning 10 restaurants with a master’s degree to becoming a janitor in Utah — but said he forever loves his job, because he loves the students.

“I am touched by their kindness,” said Abouo. “What they do for me. I cannot forget. I pray for them and their family.”

Students are hosting a dinner on June 21 at Ryan’s Place Park where Abouo will cook authentic African food to help raise funds.

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