Sandy Wilderotter ’21 started a community service driven group called R-HOPE this past year and has done amazing things in a short amount of time. The group’s mission is to raise money and collect food donations for those in our state who are at risk of hunger. The group accomplished quite a bit on campus in the fall and winter, and has big plans for next year as well. Even while the current pandemic has led to distance learning, R-HOPE is still doing good in the community, as they set up an Instagram account to lead a Lemon/Lime challenge.
“Sandy is a spectacular leader- from day one, she's led the group with ease, and knows when to delegate tasks,” said Upper School Faculty member and R-HOPE advisor Tara Hodson. “Whenever she has an idea for a fundraiser or event, she makes sure it happens. We'd have a meeting, she'd ask who she needed to talk to for permission or where to get equipment, and it would be done the next time I saw her. The group as a whole worked very well together- there were always volunteers for different roles, regardless of the event!”
In a Q&A below, Sandy shared some of her thoughts on the start of the group, as well as the progress and where she sees it headed in the future.
How did you come up with R-HOPE (Ranney helps other people eat)
The seeds for R.H.O.P.E. were planted when I was in 8th grade. I was involved in an initiative-laden food donation drive that competed in the Students Change Hunger Challenge, in support of the New Jersey Federation of Food Banks. That year, our school collected the most pounds of food of any participating school, which earned us the organization’s top prize: the Governor’s Cup. We were presented the award at a formal ceremony. I remember being surprised that my eventual high school -- Ranney School-- had not participated in the program. An incoming freshman, I was determined to change that. I knew my mission right then and there: to bring a food drive program to Ranney.
What was the biggest challenge in putting together this club/committee?
The biggest challenge was not unlike that of any new program: motivating and then organizing a group of people unaccustomed to the tasks expected of them. From there, as club president, it fell on me to delegate roles and responsibilities within the club. It’s also been a consistent challenge -in the best possible way- to come up with novel, innovative ideas to attract students to our cause and then keep their interest. The more people I help inspire, the more lives our group can touch.
Can you outline some of your initiatives this year and talk about why they were meaningful?
The first year of R.H.O.P.E. was a busy one. We arranged and executed more than a dozen events: bake and bracelet sales, a movie night, several food drives, an inter-grade donating competition called Dollar Wars, and a dodgeball tournament populated mostly by student-athletes. Half the dodgeball proceeds were earmarked for breast cancer awareness, something I’m particularly proud of. But perhaps our most meaningful fundraiser was something with the most charming of names: Hit a Teacher in the Face with a Pie. I cannot express just how gratifying this particular event was; I’m looking forward to next year’s, I’ll say that much.
Why do you think your group was as successful as they were this year?
R.H.O.P.E.’s success stems from the dedication and earnestness of our student volunteers and the conscientious, selfless oversight of our amazing faculty. I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished because we’ve done it together, no more piece any more important than another. It’s my hope that people take this lesson of camaraderie and generosity of spirit outside the halls of Ranney and carry it throughout their lives.
What are some of your goals for next year's Students Change Hunger challenge?
Our goal is simple: raise as much money, gather as much food, and touch as many lives as is humanly possible. With the world as it is today, nothing else matters.
What are some of your plans for Students Change Hunger next year to reach those goals?
As seniors, my peers and I have big plans for R.H.O.P.E. next year. We want to galvanize the Ranney Community and really instill a legacy of giving that far outlasts our tenure. We have plans for fundraisers that involve the entire school, including what we’re calling the Swim-A-Thon. The premise is simple: swim a lap in the Ranney pool and a sponsor donates a set dollar amount. The more you swim, the more we earn in support of the food insecure. We’re also planning a week-long battle between the grades. We intend to set aside an entire week dedicated to R.H.O.P.E., and each day will bring with it a specific inter-grade grade challenge. In addition, the week will feature bake sales and other related fundraisers, alongside our usual year-long initiatives. Separately, you’ll find R.H.O.P.E. tents and kiosks at most Ranney sporting events, selling spirit gear in support of the cause.
What is the most meaningful lesson you’ve learned?
Trite though it might sound, the most meaningful lesson I’ve learned is just how big of a difference a little effort and compassion can make in someone else’s life--not just in the lives of the recipients but also those of the participants. That message came home immediately, with our very first Fall Fundraiser. There was a certain pride about representing the school in a charitable way, and the response to our message was overwhelmingly positive. We initiated R.H.O.P.E. with the idea of raising not just money but spirits, too; I’d like to think we’ve been successful on both accounts.
Why is this club's mission so important to you and how has your viewpoint changed, if at all since starting it?
I have come to understand on an even deeper level the true horror of child hunger. A staggering twenty percent of children -one out of every five- are food-deprived. This was a startling, scary lesson. Further, I had never realized how many kids rely on school-supplied breakfasts and/or lunches as their only sources of daily nutrition. Though I never took my own upbringing for granted, I’ve come to realize just how fortunate I am; I am spared so many day-to-day problems facing much of our population. And I’ve used this information as ammunition, as inspiration. I know what it is, truly, to help the less fortunate. That said, as acutely as I know the feeling of gratification, I cannot articulate it in words. It manifests in smiles and hugs and laughter and a hopeful look in a child’s eye. Of course, the current coronavirus crisis has further impacted my world view, because the pandemic has hit the indigent and food insecure particularly hard, which adds extra urgency to our initiative.