Dorcas Fair Set for January 13 – for Fun and for Charity

The annual Dorcas Fair, which has raised thousands of dollars for charities, will be held Sunday, January 13, in the School's Fuller Athletic Center.

A group of students met with representatives of the Connecticut Community Foundation in the fall to discuss the selection process for charities to receive Dorcas funds. The students are (from left): front row – Ali Saperstone, Marianella Salinas, Julia Mariano; back row – Claire Hua, Maya Kumar, Andja Demiraj, Sarah Pino, and Katie Sauter.

Dorcas Fair Set for January 13 – for Fun and for Charity

A beloved Westover School tradition – the annual Dorcas Fair, which has raised tens of thousands of dollars for charities over the years – will be getting a new twist when it is held on Sunday, January 13, from 2:15 to 4:15 pm in the School's Fuller Athletic Center.

Organized and run as a class project annually by the School's junior class, this year's event will be open to the general public. In the past, the Dorcas Fair has been held primarily for the Westover community – students, faculty, staff, parents, and their families. Admission is free, with prices for games, activities, food, and products ranging from $1 to $8.

Each year the Dorcas Heads choose a surprise theme for the event, which is revealed at the opening of the fair; recent past themes have featured characters from The Wizard of Oz, Toy Story, and other animated features and popular movies and books.

This year's Dorcas Fair offerings will include such activities as knocker ball, an inflatable bounce house, and the School's climbing wall, as well as crafts, games, a silent auction, a raffle, and a variety of foods and refreshments. The 2019 Dorcas heads – juniors Katie Sauter, Julia Mariano, and Marianella Salinas – are currently working with their faculty advisor, Maggie Nunez Fernandez '98, and their classmates on final preparations for the event.

In 2005, the School established a Dorcas Fund under the supervision of the Connecticut Community Foundation to invest a portion of the funds raised at the fairs and to give the Dorcas student leaders a greater understanding of philanthropy. From 2005 to 2017, Westover's Dorcas Fair program has distributed more than $85,000 to local, national, and international charities.

The 2018 Dorcas Fair raised more than $5,800. Drawing additional monies from the foundation's Dorcas Fund, the Class of 2019 donated a total of $9,000: $2,000 to the Animal Welfare Society of New Milford, $2,000 to Little Britches Therapeutic Riding Program in Roxbury; and $2,300 for the Avielle Foundation of Newtown; $2,300 to USA for UNHCR of Washington, DC; and $400 to Westover's Faculty Fund, which assists students in financial need.

"When we were picking organizations," said Maya Kumar '19, one of the three 2018 Dorcas heads, "the other heads and I wanted to make sure that we supported both local and global organizations. Gun violence is a topic very important to our class, as well as a very prevalent issue in society. Because many of us were personally affected by the Sandy Hook school shooting in 2014, we thought that it was fitting to support an organization, The Avielle Foundation, started by two parents of a Sandy Hook victim. Animal Welfare Society, Inc. and Little Britches Riding Center are two organizations that support animals and young children respectively, two of our favorite things. We knew that our donations would have a huge impact on these smaller, local organizations. Lastly, we chose to donate to the UN refugee agency. This organization works to both protect the rights and build better futures for refugees and other communities forced out of their homes. We know that we are so lucky to have the resources and opportunities that we do, and our class wanted to make sure that we gave back to those who are less fortunate than us around the world."

The proceeds from the 2019 Dorcas Fair will be distributed to charities selected by the Class of 2020 under the direction of this year's Dorcas heads.

While the Dorcas Fair generates most of the charitable funds the class raises each year, Maggie noted that the junior class organizes additional fundraising efforts throughout the school year. In September, for example, the Dorcas program has in the past sold gift baskets for parents to treat their daughters and kick off the start of the school year; this year the Dorcas heads opted for a more practical back-to-school supply sale that did rather well and provided a needed service, especially for new students. The junior class also sells Dorcas t-shirts and spirit shorts (West, Over, Senior) to raise additional funds. This year, the juniors are also organizing a semi-formal dance in conjunction with the senior class as an additional fundraising event.

Along with the members of the junior class and their parents, Maggie said a number of faculty and staff also help out, donating funds, items, auction services as well volunteering during the fair itself. She also cited faculty who support the Dorcas Program in consistent ways. Every year Nancy Aordkian Pelaez '86, the Associate Director of Development, donates a number of items for the fair; Muffie Clement Green '65, the School's Archivist, meets with the new Dorcas heads to give them the history of Dorcas at Westover; and Giselle Boyadjian, Library Director, works with students to make organic and environmentally sustainable soap. This year, Robyn Ames, the new Community Service Director, is also assisting Dorcas with plans for the fair, bringing in her experience from phonathons and other fundraising events. The Dorcas heads also are being guided by Jodi Wasserstein, the program coordinator for Westover's Invest in Girls Program, as they work for the first time with the Connecticut Community Foundation's Women's Giving Circle, which allocates grants from pooled funds to support local organizations – an opportunity to possibly extend the impact of the Dorcas program beyond the school community.

And, without Maggie as the program's advisor, Maya said, "the fair would not have been possible."

Since its earliest days, the School's Dorcas program was intended as a way of instilling a spirit of philanthropy in Westover students, both as individuals and as a group. This year's Dorcas heads clearly reflect that spirit.

"Dorcas is a way for our community to come together and help other communities," Katie said.

Because many of the organizations Dorcas supports are small, local organizations, Marianella noted, the impact of the program's gifts can make a significant difference to enhance the success of their programs. Working together as a class on the Dorcas Fair, Julia added, "has brought our class together. We started from nothing, but just what we have been able to do together so far to prepare for the fair is so rewarding."

Katie pointed out that she and the other two heads aren't the only ones who learn new leadership skills through the experience. "There are leadership opportunities for our classmates through all the committees that are set up to organize different aspects of the fair," including business outreach, donations, t-shirt design, decorating, fair activities, booths, crafts and prizes, and food.

All three heads have been delighted by the enthusiastic response of their classmates throughout the fair preparations. "I thought it was going to be a very slow process," Marianella recalled, "but everyone was so excited with the theme that it started coming together fairly quickly." Enthusiasm, Julia noted, "is something that you can't teach," so her classmates' commitment and energy was exciting to see. Katie noted that the class often stayed late on weekends without complaint to get the multitude of preparations for the fair done.

Working with the Connecticut Community Foundation also has been an educational opportunity for the Dorcas heads. Meeting with the foundation officials, Julia explained, "made me want to think carefully about which charities to support. And it was exciting to learn that we can write grant checks for specific projects that a charity offers."

Gabby Young '19, one of the 2018 Dorcas heads, said her experience "definitely has shaped who I am. It triggered my passion for community service. After helping to organize last year's fair, I realized I wanted to do more, so I went on the School's community service trip to Kentucky last June."

Gabby also noted that the challenges of organizing a major school event taught her lessons in perseverance. "We learned that it was really important to be flexible, that there can be real trials and tribulations and you just have to push through them. It was a skill I learned – as well as patience. You can't always have the immediate reward or fix the problem immediately."

Maya agreed. "While I knew that planning the Dorcas Fair was going to be a challenge, I didn't expect to have so many little things – making signs, thank-you cards, having enough chairs, etc. – that needed to be taken care of, right up until the end of the fair. At times, it felt as though there was so much to do with so little time left. The best aspect, and possibly most surprising, was during the last few days before the fair, when our class starting setting up the gym and everything came together in the best possible way."

When asked what she learned from her experience as a Dorcas Head, Maya said, "I learned three important lessons. Trust is the most important quality to have while working with others. Patience and kindness are two crucial qualities to have as a leader. And I found that it really is the journey, not the destination, that is valuable. Though the fair was a success, my best memories of Dorcas are of the late nights spent with my class, and specifically with the two other heads, who are now two of my best friends."

The three seniors who headed Westover's 2018 Dorcas Program, which had a Toy Story theme, are (from left): Ali Saperstone, Gabby Young, and Maya Kumar.