By Yvonne Dennis (246)
Central High alumni donations are not bottomless, magical dollars that come from faceless, rich old guys.
And campaigns like the 224’s multiyear effort to raise $224,000 for the benefit of Central students and staff don’t happen with ease.
They come from hard-working Central graduates likely one and two generations removed from the current student body. They come from people with special hearts who believe in the moving power of education and the right of all young people to have a fair chance at success.
Central’s 224th class graduated in June 1965 with 575 members. About 500 of them are alive today. By the time of the class’ 50-year reunion in 2015, organizers had contact with about 400 of them. From three members of the class, here is the tale of the what, the why and–maybe most importantly–the how of this spectacular fundraising effort.
AACHS: How was the idea introduced to the members of the class and what was the reception?
Ron Rosen, Esq., managing partner at law firm Tabas & Rosen: There was a core group of guys who’ve been involved in virtually every reunion for going back to our first so we met and amongst the things we talked about aside from having a great, significant, commemorative [50th] event was to do something for the school. All of us were aware of the financial stresses that public education is experiencing and in particular we knew what was going on at Central. Many of us, Mark obviously probably more than most of us, have been involved in the inner workings of the school. I have known people who have volunteered virtually full time to fill in some of the shortfalls in Central’s staffing.
It was an organic thing that we just said, what would be best? What does the school really need? How can we enrich the educational experience?
Mark Lipshutz, AACHS investments committee chairman, computer science professional and onetime Central math teacher: We had 200 classmates attend the main [50th-year reunion] event …. and out of that grew the fundraising team. We call it the 224ward Fund and we have continued to meet and to work together on the campaign ever since.
Larry Stone, DDS: The approach that was helpful to me was the fact that before they actually asked for any money, an announcement was made that this was going to happen. So it gave me an opportunity to think about it, to save up, to think about what I wanted to give.
Ron: Initially there were probably seven or eight of us who made a substantial down-payment. We also had a classmate–who very recently passed away–Bruce Zoren; the kind of effort he made in reaching out to our classmates, it was monumental.
AACHS: What has been the largest donation and what has been about average?
Mark: Burt Cohen contributed $25,000. We have had several at the $10,000 level. Several at $5,000. Several at $2,500 and it goes down from there. Down to people who said my circumstances are not good but I want to be a part of this and gave $25 ’cause that’s all they could give and they’re just as much a part of this as anybody else.
Class members are now coming up on their 70th birthdays but many, including Dr. Stone, aren’t yet retired. (He enjoys working and Pilates helps with the resulting bad back. “All dentists have bad backs,” he says, recieving chuckles from his audience) If they haven’t begun to draw from their pensions, IRAs and 401k accounts, by law they soon will have to. There’s opportunity in those cases as well to aid Central.
Mark: By age 70 and a half you have to start taking required minimum distributions, and for those classmates who’ve been lucky enough to be financially successful, they will have a big nest egg and have to start drawing on it. If donations are made directly from those funds rather than passing through the hands of the classmate, it’s tax deductible.”
AACHS: What is the plan for distributing the $224,000?
Mark: We identified two basic thrusts. We wanted to do one big thrust with something that would be more or less permanent and visible. That has been to fund equipment for the robotics laboratory. We have recently completed the purchase and installation of two machines and all the equipment that goes with it for about $46,000. The import of this is that robotics is about competitions. Competitions are about prototypes. And instead of manually constructing the robots, they now have machine tools so they can do rapid prototyping and really up their game in the limited time associated with each competition.
“I always come home on a high note and feeling like I’m 18.”
Mark Lipshutz, 224, on the semiannual get-togethers with
Central classmates. The three groomsmen in Mark’s 1995
wedding were 224 classmates.
The other arm has been a series of mini-grants, which we are calling 224 STEAM innovation grants–Science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics.
These are grants generally of up to about $1000 open to students and teachers to give the kind of added support and to spark interest in the ways that perhaps our communities and our families afforded us 50 some years ago.
We helped buy the whole house for [Central student] attendance at “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at the Arden Theatre. And we received 21 eloquent, articulate and passionate thank-you notes. Shakespeare Society Thank You Letters 20170422
We helped sponsor a student-organized diversity conference held at LaSalle University in May. Just a couple weeks ago we helped subsidize an Outward Bound trip to go down the Delaware River and understand the biodiversity, as well as all the experience you get from bonding with students on a trip like that.
We are sponsoring four science teachers–this is coming up in a couple week’s time –to go to a BioBuilder workshop so they can be better science teachers.
AACHS: How do the students and the staff become aware that you guys are offering grants?
“We’ve had articles in the Centralizer. We made presentations during staff development days at the beginning of the year. President [Tim] McKenna has sent out emails and we had some faculty liaison members to work with us. The idea from the mini-grants actually came from a teacher, Galeet Cohen (256).
AACHS: Do you think some alumni may be concerned that their donations would cause the school’s public funding to go down because of their private donations?
Ron: This issue was in the minds of all of us because we didn’t want to be a substitute for public funding. I think the budgeting that goes on in Harrisburg does no particular favor for Central. Central is not seen as a school in need. They’re absolutely aware that Central has a strong alumni. We are just trying to give the kids today as much as we possibly can and give them the strongest possible step up in life.
Here is the form for Central students and staff to apply for a 224 STEAM grant. If you are an alumnus who would like advice on a fundraising effort for Central, email firstname.lastname@example.org