You just never know…this was definitely a “Throwback Week”—to senior year of high school!
The Place: Madison, Wisconsn.
The Year: 1990. Taylor Swift was just learning to walk, folks, this was a long time ago!
The Instigators: Former Wisconsin Governor Tony Earl was asked about “today’s youth,” to which he suggested that “apathy” was an apt descriptor. The nerve! Couple that with a Phil Collins MTV video called “Another Day in Paradise,” about how society literally turns the other way when confronted with the issue of homelessness.
The Challenge: To idealistic seniors in high school, no one was going to tell us that we were apathetic, throwing a blind eye to the problems around us.
The Solution: Get some friends together** and organize a benefit concert at our high school that combines our love of the arts with the raising of funds for a pressing charitable cause.
The Name: “A Roof Over Our Heads”
And so it began; committees were formed, talent was booked (Dance Ensemble, Minniesingers, Jazz West, Comedy Sportz), a theme song was written*, a logo was designed, a guest speaker was chosen (Tony Earl, who confirmed participation but was ultimately a no-show), and a raffle was created, with prizes donated by many local businesses. We reached out to the media, and received coverage (including a write-up in Madison’s Ishmus, and a feature on favorite radio station WORT).
Finally, on May 11, 1990, the magic happened; a couple hundred kids and their families, and an evening of entertainment (that honestly went on a little too long!) resulted in $3,200 donated directly to Transitional Housing, Inc., a non-profit dedicated to providing low-cost housing and support services to families and individuals in need.
While soon off to college, I made sure to create a big file folder full of relevant docs, and handed it off to Daniella Thome, hoping that, as a senior, she might continue the tradition, as least for another year…
What I learned this past week is that on April 18th, “A Roof Over Our Heads” will celebrate its 26th Anniversary! 26 years! How did this happen? Honestely, I’m not sure! For a few years, there must have been a "living memory” of how it all started, and the desire for it to continue. And then, due to someone’s foresight (if you’re out there, let us know who you are!), a formal club was established (with the backing of a faculty supervisor), ensuring its future.
I contacted West High School this week, and spoke to senior Katrina Hetico, current president of the “Roof Over Our Heads” Club, and she shared a bit about the group. 10-12 “regulars” meet every Wednesday over lunch, with various committees holding responsibilty for all facets of the spring concert. In addition, members also participate in local events throughout the year, such as Savory Sunday, a program that serves fresh, hot meals every Sunday to those in need.
I was also able to speak to current Executive Director of Porchlight (formerly known as Transitional Housing, Inc.) Steven Schooler, who estimated that the agency has received about $50,000 over the past 25 years from the benefits. This, from concerned high school students who are determined to make a difference.
In some ways, the current “Challah-it-Forward” challenge idea can be traced back to this important event 26 years ago. The joy that I received in the act of doing something to help others back then mirrors the warmth I experience each and every week that my family is now able to share a bit of what we bake.
But I actually think that the roots of “Challah-it-Forward” go back even further, to when I was a young boy, standing around the Shabbat table on Friday nights. For it was here that after the blessing over the wine and directly before the blessing over the challah, a toast was given by either my grandparents or my parents. Ancestors who were no longer with us were recalled, as were relatives living far away. Peace was wished for, both locally and around the world. And finally, the hope for “sustenance for all.” Sustenance, the idea each person, no matter how young or old, rich or poor, should have the resources to break bread and be nourished.
Words stick, and ideas stick, especially when they are repeated, literally week after week, year after year. When the top of my head barely reached the Shabbat table, my parents couldn’t have known that I, together with my friends, would as teenagers create a little benefit concert to help alleviate the injustices we saw around us. And I couldn’t possibly have known as a high school senior that our little “engine that could” would be chugging along a quarter of a century later.
I wish the current “Roof Over Our Heads” team only the best on April 18th, and thank them, and Porchlight, for doing their part…
Shabbat Shalom, and a good week ahead…
**Carey Bartell, Jessica Bartell, Jennifer Drapkin Trystad, Sarah Eisinger, Miles Henderson Lee, Kiva Liljequist, Josh Perlman, Sarah Richardson, Claire Sandler, Alex Shapiro, Jaala Spiro, Matt Tallman, Daniella Thome, Julianna Tillemo, plus others!