In August, Parsippany-Troy Hills elementary music teacher Jim Caulfield sat watching his television as Hurricane Harvey battered the Houston metropolitan area in August.
“Watching the news, your heart goes out to these families and children,” Caulfield said. “Many of us have lived through horrible natural disasters. We know what they leave behind.”
Soon after, Hurricane Irma struck the Florida Keys.
“I started thinking of ways that we can help those who were in need, particularly the schools in those areas,” Caulfield added.
During Caulfield’s 17 years in the Parsippany-Troy Hills School District, he learned that many of his colleagues had musical backgrounds, so he decided a musical benefit might be a great opportunity for him and his colleagues to help schools devastated by the hurricanes. He contacted Parsippany-Troy Hills Education Association (PTHEA) President Joe Kyle about sponsoring the event.
“I thought it was an awesome idea,” Kyle said. “We’re always happy to hear innovative ideas for the PTHEA. We thought it was important to hold this event while the images of the hurricanes were fresh in our minds—we had less than two months to plan. There was a lot of work to do. And then when Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico so hard, we knew we must include it as well.”
Caulfield and Kyle met with the new superintendent, Dr. Barbara Sargent, who immediately pledged district support of the event.
PTHEA Vice President Jay Duhl noted that PTHEA participates in several community initiatives throughout the year, including holding an annual health fair and food bank drive along with sponsoring two little league teams. This was the first time, however, that PTHEA participated in a joint venture with the district.
“We had so many people sign up to help,” Duhl said. “Together, the president of the PTHEA, the superintendent of schools and a board of education member greeted the public and sold tickets. Behind the scenes, volunteers from across the district served as technical crew, stage hands, ushers, food service assistants and more. It was truly a joint venture in every way.”
Caulfied added that it was the collaboration between the association and administration that helped achieve the event’s success.
“Our superintendent, principals and supervisors were all on board and helped us out whenever possible,” Caulfield said. “Our association reps made sure our event was publicized throughout the district. Many of our members connected with community organizations and places of worship to ensure we got the support we needed.”
The result was Ovations for Relief, which raised $4,000 for schools affected by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria. The Nov. 2 event was staged at Parsippany High School Auditorium.
The evening began with a welcome from Sargent and Kyle. Then the color guard of Boy Scout Troop #72 led the Pledge of Allegiance. The Parsippany High School Choir performed “The Star Spangled Banner,” led by PTHEA member Christine Wilson.
“Having our high school choir and the scouts involved reminded us what this event was all about: the students—both here and in areas needing our help,” Caulfield said.
The program included variety of staff performances ranging from show tunes to contemporary rock, mind-reading and comedy skits. Many staff members teamed up for duets and trios, along with performances by the PTHSD Music Teachers Jazz Band. For several of the staff, it was their first time on stage.
“Our members never hesitate to put themselves out there,” Kyle said. “They volunteered countless hours, preparing, rehearsing, and planning. Whenever we need them, whether for our health fair, our food drive, or this new benefit, PTHEA members are there, willing to give it their all.”
“The concert was an excellent opportunity for teachers to give back to our community as performers and to show other communities around the country and beyond that we are thinking of them in the wake of these devastating storms,” said music teacher Kristen Webb, who performed that evening.
“I am proud to be part of a community of givers that serve as role models for our students,” concurred English teacher Mark Zacharia, who performed mind-reading and comedy during the evening.
“We were thrilled to see that we filled the house,” Duhl said. “We are so very proud to be a part of such a caring community.” Duhl said, noting that donations and admissions exceeded all expectations.
Duhl traveled to the Florida Keys just weeks after Hurricane Irma ravaged the region.
“There was so much devastation: houses destroyed, debris lining the street, so much to be rebuilt from scratch, Duhl remembered. “It gave me a great perspective of the service and support we can provide, school-to-school.”
Checks for approximately $1,000 each were sent to schools in Marathon Key in Florida; Orocovis in Puerto Rico; and Houston and Galveston in Texas.
“It says volumes about our educators,” Caulfield said. “We love kids and we love our towns. A lot of heart went into this event.”
Patrick Long, a Language Arts teacher who performed a comedy skit, elaborated.
“As a teacher, I feel like I belong to a global community,” he said. “This benefit was the perfect opportunity to contribute to that community in a positive way.”
“It also strengthens the relationships when the administration and the association can work together for a great cause,” Kyle added. “We are hopeful that we can continue collaborating on other issues and initiatives.”
Caulfield knows they will.
“I’ve already inquired about an event next year,” he said. “There will always be a need or a cause, and if we can help another school or another group, why not?”