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Pingry's Day of Community Service
adawson

Every year, on the last Friday of October, Pingry students make an impact. On this day, otherwise known as Rufus Gunther Day, a different kind of learning takes place at Pingry.

This year, over 1,000 Upper and Middle School students, faculty, and staff traveled to 40 different area organizations—on more than 25 buses—to lend a community service hand. Other groups of students remained on the Basking Ridge campus for a variety of service-related projects, including creating ceramic pieces in the art studio to sell for cancer support, sewing blankets for Bryan's Dream Foundation, assembling care packages for New Jersey Sharing Network families, and helping Pingry's Facilities Team to clear campus trails and plant bulbs.

An annual, school-wide day of community service has been a Pingry tradition dating back to the school's years on the Hillside campus. Thanks to the nurturing efforts of Ms. Shelley Hartz, Pingry's Director of Community Service, who has been overseeing the School's day of community service for 14 years now, the program has grown considerably in recent years. In addition to its longstanding relationships with places like the Community FoodBank in Hillside, ECLC in Chatham, and Bridges Outreach in Summit, this year ​saw the addition of a few new service opportunities:

Six students traveled to the Greater Newark Conservancy to help tidy their community gardens. In similar efforts, 18 students visited Grow It Green Morristown. Seven Middle Schoolers trekked around Norvin Green State Forest, engaged in trail cleaning, weeding, and firewood collection. Seven students visited The Willow School in Gladstone, helping their Middle School students to build a rain water retention system. And at KIPP Bold Academy in Newark, five students reshelved books in the school's library, hung bulletin boards, and helped to decorate for their upcoming fall festival.

Of particular note are four different organizations, all founded by Pingry alumni, with whom students have worked in the past—and again, this year—on Community Service Day:

A Birthday Wish, founded by Jane Hoffman '94, which gives birthday gifts to children in New Jersey foster care

The Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation, which joined forces in 1999 with the Stifel Paralysis Research Foundation, founded by Henry G. Stifel III '83  

John Taylor Babbitt Foundation, dedicated to preventing sudden cardiac death, founded by the family of John Taylor Babbitt '07

St. Justine Preschool and Keep the Children Safe Foundation, founded by Pat Birotte '87, who for years led the Keep the Children Safe annual Halloween parade in Newark

​The day is a true demonstration of just how much impact the Pingry community can have. But as Ms. Hartz will tell you, the longtime school tradition is less about the impact of the day on the organizations, and more about the impact of the organizations—and the experience of service—on the students. "I believe what our students do at these organizations makes a lifetime of an impact," says Ms. Hartz. "It's not about us, it's about the larger community and our responsibility to it. These kids won't necessarily remember an SAC assembly, but they will always remember their experiences on Community Service Day."

Annika Shekdar '24, who performed with other members of the Middle School chorus at CenterBridge II, an assisted living community in Bridgewater, agreed:

"When we went to the senior living home, I thought the interaction would not extend far beyond our singing. After our singing, we had an opportunity to engage in activities with these seniors. The first introduction I made was to Eileen, a senior at the home. This day was special to me because of what followed. We began a coloring activity and through the choosing of colors for the drawing and other such things, Eileen and I, along with the other middle school and senior pairs, started sharing anecdotes and bonding. I thought community service was supposed to help other people, and didn't know what a two-way street it can be. While serving the larger community, I realized the experience helped me as well. I developed a bond with a lady I've never met, who I am not related to, and completely of my own free will. I've learned that by putting time into helping others, you are helping a large sum of people, including yourself. As we said our goodbyes and I left the home, I felt sad about the fact that I probably wouldn't really communicate with Eileen anymore, and that led me to do something else. When I shared my feelings with [Middle School Office Coordinator] Mrs. Egan, she recommended writing Eileen a letter, which I sent today. Overall, this experience meant a lot to me and I learned a lot."


Community Service Day by the Numbers

700 bagged lunches packed by Sage Dining Services to feed Pingry students, faculty, and staff volunteering off campus.

2,159 pounds of candy, collected and sorted by Pingry Middle Schoolers and donated to the Keep the Children Safe Foundation, directed by Pat Birotte '87.

Over 200 pounds of wood chips spread by Middle Schoolers across a picnic area in Norvin Green State Forest

20 Pingry artists sculpted 65 clay pots in Pingry's ceramics studio for Potters for Peace.

Six Pingry seniors chatted with three eighth-grade boys from KIPP Bold Academy about the college application process.

Over 50 posters decorated by Peer Leaders for NYC Marathon runners racing in support of the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation.

150 Halloween decorations made for the children of Deirdre's House in Morristown.


Photos, top to bottom: At America's Grow-A-Row in Pittstown, students help prep greenhouses and grounds for the winter season; after performing for residents of CenterBridge II in Bridgewater, Middle School chorus members make a craft with their new friends; armed with hand clippers and loppers, Upper Schoolers clear invasive brush at the Great Swamp Refuge; on campus, students sculpt and throw clay in the ceramics studio for Potters for Peace.

Contact: Andrea Dawson, Senior Writer, adawson@pingry.org