For many years, the members of the Hamilton Township Education Association (HTEA) in Atlantic County have been contributing to a charitable fund on every “jeans day”: either a payday or a professional development day where staff are encouraged to donate money for the right to wear jeans instead of following the dress code.
Beginning in 2017, the Hamilton Township School District decided to turn over the fundraising and disbursement of the funds to HTEA for tax reasons. HTEA invited members to join a committee, chaired by paraprofessional Lorraine Von Hess, to make decisions about how that money would be used.
“We are a prekindergarten through eighth grade district that serves more than 4,300 students,” said Von Hess. “In addition, we have approximately 450 HTEA members. We have families who are going through catastrophic illnesses and financial crises. We wanted to have a way to support the families of our students and staff through these difficult times.”
For the 2017-18 school year, HTEA honored all of the commitments that the district made when it led the initiative. But after that, the committee discussed what the members saw as the most pressing needs.
We have families who are going through catastrophic illnesses and financial crises. We wanted to have a way to support the families of our students and staff through these difficult times.
“I think that it really helps that the committee, which has 11 members, is made up of a lot of different job categories,” Von Hess said. “You see and hear different things in the hallways, classrooms, and corridors. Our goal is to have a member from each job category on the committee so that we can be sure we don’t miss anything.”
School secretaries collect some of the funds, but the committee also has enabled payments through Venmo and PayPal. If staff members choose, they can make a lump-sum annual contribution of $100—a one dollar discount off of each of the jeans days, which the HTEA has rebranded as HTEA Cares Days.
“Streamlining the process has made it easier to fundraise,” Von Hess said. “In addition, it takes some of the burden from the school secretaries. And with the new name, we wanted to separate what we wear from how much we care.”
So far, HTEA has 70 members who have opted for the annual contribution. On every HTEA Cares Days, $1,100 is collected from staff.
“Our committee decided that we wanted to donate 50 percent of the funds we collect to charities that benefit students, their families and the community, and 50 percent to help staff facing financial crises. While we are very careful to keep confidential the circumstances of our students and members who require assistance out of respect for them and their privacy, so far, we’ve been able to support students and staff whose families faced medical crises, assisted with transportation issues, and helped bridge the gap with short-term financial issues.”
“It can be overwhelming to hear about how much need there is,” Von Hess said. “In addition to financial contributions through HTEA Cares, we also run a food donation program called No Food Left Behind. Our association is committed to using whatever we have to assist people in need.”
You can read about the No Food Left Behind program at njea.org/one-lunch-duty-time.
For the students, staff and their families, the financial contributions are a sign that they are valued members of a school community that is always there to support them.
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