On Friday evening, February 1st, Rippowam Cisqua School ninth grade students, and several of their teachers—including Tim Hart, Mike Kober, Elizabeth Messinger, Chris Perry, Paul Ragonesi, Missy Swan, and Head of School Matthew Nespole—traveled to Manhattan to participate in the annual Midnight Run. Midnight Run is a volunteer group that organizes relief missions to distribute food and clothing to homeless men and women on the streets of New York City--and the group’s name defines the scope of their mission: Midnight Run volunteers travel into the city at night, when they can most effectively reach out to large populations of people in need. Rippowam Cisqua has a longstanding relationship with the organization, and ninth grade students and teachers at RCS have participated in several Midnight Runs over the years.
This year, two RCS ninth grade students, Alex Needham and Annabelle Nemeth, took on the challenge of organizing the Midnight Run as part of their ninth grade portfolio. The portfolio program is a comprehensive academic exercise wherein ninth grade students explore a specific topic of personal interest under the guidance of a faculty advisor. As student leaders, Alex and Annabelle raised funds to purchase the supplies needed for the Run. Parents of the ninth graders volunteered to cook soup, make hard-boiled eggs, and bake meatloaf (a sandwich staple favored by many of the homeless).
A few days prior to the Run, Midnight Run Executive Director Dale Williams shared his unique perspective on homelessness in New York City with the entire ninth grade. Mr. Williams spent nearly three years on the streets in the late 1980s. A product of a middle class family with a college education, Mr. Williams spoke about not knowing the meaning of being cold, hungry, unwashed, and lonely until he faced that stark reality of homelessness. Members of the ninth grade asked a number of questions as they listened to his story.
On the day of the Run, there was much work to be done before the students and teachers even hit the road - making sandwiches and assembling “sack suppers” including hot soup and coffee, packaging up personal care items, sizing and grouping clothing, and packing up blankets. Upper Campus Head Bill Barrett and Chris Perry, an Upper Campus Science teacher and the Ninth Grade Dean, assisted the students and teachers as they prepared for the Run. After an introduction to logistics by the Run leader, Vic Fried, the students and teachers piled into cars and headed out to the first stop. Over the course of the next three hours, the students shared the food and clothing with a number of appreciative individuals, and engaged in conversation with many of the men and women. As the night progressed, the ninth graders came to appreciate the “homeless” as people with names and faces, people with more similarities to them than differences, and people who were experiencing rocky points in their lives.
Rippowam Cisqua School’s mission states a commitment to instilling “in students a strong sense of connection to their community and to the larger world. We, as a school, recognize the common humanity of all people and teach understanding and respect for the differences among us.” This student-led effort indeed underscored those words and values in some incredibly powerful ways for the students and the adults involved.
To learn more about community service at Rippowam Cisqua, you can visit the School’s website at www.rcsny.org.