Tenakill Middle School "Field of Hope" AIDS Walk quilts. (Photo: Paula Cummings)
After learning about AIDS as part of a class project, the eighth graders of Tenakill Middle School in Closter, New Jersey, were moved to make a difference. On June 7, 2011, 60 students hosted the first “Field of Hope" AIDS Walk to support organizations fighting HIV/AIDS, including EGPAF.
The event was developed after Paula Cummings, a health and physical education teacher at the school, heard about a project that school librarian Brenda Khan created for a study on AIDS. Khan had asked students to research information about AIDS from websites including CDC.gov
. Following the completion of Khan’s project, Cummings was inspired to keep the momentum going. Cummings and Khan educated the students about how the HIV epidemic has affected the world and introduced them to the AIDS Memorial Quilt
, a memorial created in 1987 to honor those who have died from AIDS that is the largest ongoing community arts project in the world. Cummings then challenged every eighth grader at the middle school to create his or her own AIDS quilt. But the students wanted to do more.
(Photo: Paula Cummings)
After all the students had learned from their research, they were inspired to host an AIDS walk to raise money for those affected by AIDS. Tenakill students joined with nearby Hillside Elementary School students to sell "Field of Hope" wristbands and sought sponsors for the walk.
For two hours on June 7, nearly 600 students and teachers walked around the displayed quilts on Tenakill field, raising more than $3,600 dollars – half of which was donated to EGPAF to support its mission to eliminate pediatric AIDS.
The event featured music from a professional DJ, student artwork inspired by noted artist and AIDS activist Keith Haring
, and the students’ homemade quilts.
Parents, peers, and the community joined the walk to support the eighth graders. Moved by their kindness, Closter mayor Sophie Heymann and former New York Jets running back Bruce Harper attended the event as well.
When asked what inspired her and her students to make the quilts and host the AIDS walk despite the size of the project, Cummings simply said she was motivated by famed American anthropologist Margaret Mead. Mead once said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” This is especially true of the Tenakill Middle School eighth graders.