The 5 girls’ hands were quickly becoming chapped and cramped, but their throats were still strong enough to advertise their stand on the cold steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. They switched off holding a poster that read Sonnets for Sandy in large handwritten letters.
Most customers needed an explanation, but as soon as they got it, they couldn’t resist. In the words of the vendors, “We go around New York City, writing personalized poems, and drawing portraits in exchange for donations to Hurricane Sandy relief. We also do fundraising online…We created a blog to document the portraits we drew and the poems we wrote.”
For a few days in a few locations (including Madison Square Park), the girls sat outside for hours on end exercising their artistic muscles. As Nina Potischman said of their success, “Who says poetry is dead?”
On the other side of Manhattan, the muscles burning up were in the legs of 3 teenagers. They solicited their families for pledges to walk an impressive 100 blocks between the Upper East Side and Fulton Street downtown.
These Hunter teams won 2 out of the 5 places in the Hurricane Sandy relief fundraiser competition sponsored by the popular Tumblr page, Humans of New York (HONY).
It all started on November 12th when Brandon Stanton, the sole person behind HONY, posted a contest for NYC high school students to win a tour of Tumblr with its founder, David Carp; a portrait to be featured on HONY; and a dinner with the two men. Stanton allotted three spots for the teams that earned the most money, one spot for the most hardworking team, and one spot for most creative. All of the proceeds, he assured, were sent to the Tunnels to Towers foundation, an organization best known for their sponsored runs through the Battery Park Tunnel and to Ground Zero to raise money for those affected by 9/11.
As soon as she saw the post, Amelia Eigerman of Sonnets for Sandy started sketching out ideas. “My mom does a lot of work with advertising,” she shared, “so I know a lot about marketing and that sort of stuff. I know what sort of thing HONY likes, and I was inspired by one of his photos, where a man is selling poems. And we just expanded off of that. We all have different talents, and we really brought that to our project.”
Stanton seemed to be just as inspired by them as they were by him. He came by their station at the Met and took a picture, which can be seen on his website. Potischman said of the experience, “We all had that moment where we knew who he was and were mentally freaking out, but couldn’t say anything out loud…If my life had a soundtrack, dramatic and wonderful music would have been playing at that point.” Stanton also paid for Eigerman to write him a sonnet. With a whopping $1,750 total, the 5 girls still didn’t win the 3 prizes for most money or the prize for most hardworking, but they were awarded for being the most creative, between selling poems, pictures and setting up a PayPal linked to a Tumblr account with pictures of their customers.
Emma Bauchner, another member of Sonnets for Sandy team (also Eigerman, Potischman, Nadia Keiser and Georgeanne Dinan), was in a constant state of excitement. “I checked our email account every day, waiting to hear something…it felt so unreal.”
Sydney Allard, who participated in the walkathon also discusses the many drafts of ideas her team went through in such a short period of time. Before they reached their conclusion, the team crumpled up and threw out the idea of a penny drive, among others they deemed unrealistic. She commented, “My parents kept reminding me that we probably weren’t going to win but we were determined to, nonetheless.” It was such a surprise to win for Allard and her teammates Lee Shapiro and Caroline Goodman, who raised a substantial $8,475.
Eigerman felt that this experience was extremely rewarding. “I’ve done a lot of really cool things in my life already, but they have all been through my parents,” she admitted, “This was all us, and it was really empowering…it made me realize that I could really make stuff happen.”
Kaley Pillinger, Age 14, Grade 8, Hunter College High School, Gold Key