By Felicia Ho (V)

On October 27th, over 800 Upper and Middle School students, faculty, and staff volunteered at 34 organizations for Pingry’s annual Rufus Gunther Day. Students worked on a variety of different projects, including making ceramics, helping the facilities team, building a chicken coop, performing music for senior citizens, and working with students at local charter schools.

Rufus Gunther Day has been an integral part of the Pingry tradition since Pingry was at the Hillside campus. It is the one day in the school year during which the entire Pingry community devotes itself to community service.

Ms. Shelley Hartz, Director of Community Service, has successfully developed several partnerships with local- and alumni-founded community service organizations, leading to a variety of service opportunities on Rufus Gunther Day. Ms. Hartz shared that she loves how “when the students are returning, they are all excited about the time they spent in the community… and how much the day meant to them.”

Students, staff, and faculty volunteered at organizations like the Community Food Bank in Hillside, ECLC (“Education, Careers & Lifelong Community”), and the Great Swamp, all of which have long-standing partnerships with the Pingry community. Many also volunteered with non-profit organizations started by alumni, such as Birthday Wish, the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, the John Taylor Babbitt Foundation, and the Keep the Children Safe Halloween Parade.

Several service opportunities were new to Rufus Gunther Day this year. Thirteen Upper School drama students played improvisational theater games at Montgomery Academy in Basking Ridge, a school for students facing social, emotional, and academic challenges. Twenty-seven Upper School students performed music for children and elderly at the Cornerstone Family Programs and Morristown Neighborhood House.

Monica Chan (III), who performed at Cornerstone Day Center for Adults with the Horizon Music Volunteers group, said, “It was a rewarding experience for me. I find happiness in making people smile, no matter who, no matter where.”

This year, the Middle School was split into several different groups, with 150 students (Grade 6 and most of Form I) volunteering at the Community Food Bank in Hillside and other students volunteering at the Great Swamp or remaining at Pingry to help with campus projects. The Middle School also collected and sorted 1,795 pounds of candy to donate to the Keep Children Safe Halloween Parade in Newark, led by Pat Birotte ’87.

Reflecting on the successful day, Ms. Hartz said she is thankful “that the best part of my job is working everyday with committed and engaged students who are constantly looking for ways to engage with the larger community.”