Let’s face it; if you are or have a school age child, chances are you’ve been recruited to do more than your fair share of fundraising. I know this because, more than likely, I’m your biggest customer. Personally speaking, I have enough Girl Scout Thin Mint cookies in my freezer to open my own bakery – or at least get an honorary scout badge. I’ve also got an unopened deluxe pizza kit that’s so encrusted in ice; it looks like something out of the Museum of Natural History’s exhibit on the Pleistocene period. The 10 year-old boy who sold it to me… just graduated from med school. And then there’s wrapping paper. I could enshroud the entire planet and tie it up in a great big bow with all the holiday gift wrap I’ve bought over the years. Twice. I now have enough Sally Foster candy cane covered paper to last me well into the next millennium. I don’t even like the stuff. I’m more of a glossy paper, satin ribbon type myself. Still, they get me every time. The midget sales force usually hits the bricks sometime around the day after Labor Day, which, as far as I’m concerned, is still technically summertime. I mean, it’s 90 degrees outside! I’m still drinking gin and tonic. Who’s thinking about Christmas?! And how do I know what I’m going to need 4 months from then? I’m not even sure what I’ll be cooking for dinner that night. When you think about it, it’s strategically brilliant marketing. I mean I’m sure the sales managers (aka principals, PTA’s, development committees) are counting on that very memory lapse. So, when one of these little hucksters shows up on my doorstep and tells me, “It’s fah a vewy woothy cause” (the cutest ones can never pronounce their R’s), I’m reaching for my checkbook in seconds. She had me at “vewy.”
“Do you have anything in more of a claret color?” I ask hopefully, as I study the choices of wrapping paper.
The kid just stares back at me blankly.
“Never mind. Put me down for 10 rolls of the blue stuff. And I’ll take one of those oil drum sized popcorn tins, too.” If I’m lucky, I’ll actually get my order in time for Christmas. If not, I’ve still got the orders from 1996 through 2011 stashed on the top shelf of a hallway closet. I know, because every time I open the closet door, I get buried in an avalanche of unleashed cardboard rolls.
But hey, it’s fah a vewy woothy cause.
I’m reminded of all this because it’s Penny Queen time at NDP. For the uninitiated, Penny Queen is a unique, weeklong fundraising event whose origins go back to the late 1960’s, early 1970’s. The event was sponsored by what was then called The Mission Club. Each grade in the high school designated one girl from her class to be Penny Queen. For a week, her job was to go around at lunchtime, often in costume, and perform silly songs or tricks in exchange for her classmates’ loose change. Usually pennies. Hence, the name. It was all good fun and the money went to a worthy cause. Nearly 40 years later, the event is still going strong. Now sponsored by what is called CCAP (the Christian Community Awareness Program), the Penny Queen antics have become a little crazier, the costumes a little more outlandish, and – probably to no one’s real surprise – many of the parent’s are now involved. Sometimes the fundraising even continues off campus and after school hours, as it did, for instance, this year at The Green Turtle Restaurant in Towson. The owners of the Green Turtle, parents of an NDP senior, generously opened the restaurant for a karaoke night and donated 10% of the evening’s proceeds to the Penny Queen cause. Generous indeed. Most of the fundraising still takes place on campus during the lunch hour, however. For a week, the various Penny Queens sell cookies and brownies and raffle tickets for gift baskets. They perform songs and silly dares on command in exchange for a donation. I personally bought several bags of cookies I didn’t need and asked one Penny Queen to sing “Over the Rainbow,” in exchange for a contribution. She obliged as best she could, though eventually the song devolved into some sort of rap. More Nicki Minaj than Wizard of Oz. More Gaga than Garland. The point is, there is almost nothing they won’t do to raise another dollar or two or ten. Luckily, the club’s adult monitors and other school officials keep the dares in check.
What the girls don’t need to be reminded of, however, is what the silliness is all about. They do all this to raise money for the school children of Ignacio Ellacuria, a small, poverty-stricken village in El Salvador, Central America. Ignacio Ellacuria is like a sister village to the students, staff, and parents of NDP. The relationship between the two communities is one that has been nurtured for more than 20 years now. It is a relationship that feeds the NDP girls emotionally and spiritually as much as it provides material needs to the villagers. This year, the Penny Queen campaign raised over $30,000 for Ignacio Ellacuria. That money will go directly to help with the educational needs of the village. It will be spent on such critical items as teacher salaries, scholarships, school transportation, books, supplies, computers, or lunches. In the past, it has also been used for such rudimentary needs as outdoor latrines and a fence around the school to keep out the wild animals from the surrounding hills. This is the “concept” part of the NDP girl’s CCAP mission. By having their collective consciousness raised about such concepts as rich and poor, haves and have nots, first world and third world, they come to understand more clearly the needs of those less fortunate. And so they give their pennies and nickels, and dollars. And that is a good thing. But as Tom Howarth, director of the Father McKenna Center – a homeless shelter in Washington D.C. – once told me, “It’s not just concept. It’s contact.” The idea being, it’s important to meet the need where it is. And so, every year at Easter time, many of the NDP girls travel to Ignacio Ellacuria to visit their Salvadorian friends and help out in whatever way they can. They live with them for a week, help out in the schools and village, learn about their customs and culture, and get to know their Salvadorian brothers and sisters on a deeper level. Contact. Not just concept. Who’s to say who is more transformed by the experience? Who benefits the most? So, if you happen to stop by NDP during Penny Queen week and catch a glimpse of a student dressed up like Honey Boo Boo, doing a tap dance for pocket change, remember…
It’s for a very worthy cause.