Something Old, Something New

When the School closed its campuses in March and postponed its annual A Night for Scholars, rumbles from the Sidwell Friends community began: What about the families with financial aid needs—needs that might grow during a pandemic and an economic downturn? How can we make sure that we are taking care of everyone in our community without the annual Fund-a-Scholar fundraising effort?

From the community’s concern, 48 Hours for Scholars was born.

The plan was simple: Over a two-day period, Sidwell Friends parents, grandparents, alumni and their parents, faculty and staff, and other friends of the School would make gifts that would go directly toward financial aid. The School could look to past alumni challenges and parent text-a-thons as models for how to successfully overcome the difficulties that social distancing presented.

And the engine driving this campaign? Volunteers, who were more motivated than ever to make calls, send texts, and email community members to encourage their generosity.

“I have worked on A Night for Scholars from the time our family joined the Sidwell community,” Maggie Prieto (P ’14, ’16, ’20) said. Prieto was one of several A Night for Scholars volunteers who immediately rolled up their sleeves to help with the two-day effort.

“All of us in the community benefit from the diversity of experience, thought, and insight brought by members who come from as many different backgrounds as we find in our metro area,” Prieto explained. “We know that a Sidwell Friends education is not accessible to many, and financial aid is one way to make it more accessible.”

On May 27, as the 48-hour period began, volunteers set their sights on a fundraising goal of $250,000, which is what they had hoped to raise during this year’s A Night for Scholars.

By the end of the first day, they were closing in rapidly on their goal. That’s when they realized they might have underestimated just how determined their friends and former classmates were to support one another.

“Sidwell Friends is a special place to me, and I was fortunate enough to spend my entire childhood— 14 years—as a Sidwell Friends student. As I reached out to other alumni, many of them felt similarly and chose to donate as well,”Lindsay Johnson ’07 said.


Some alumni shared on social media how others’ generosity made their own educational experience possible. “It was only through the significant generosity of countless families that my brother and I were able to attend Sidwell Friends,” Bruce Altevogt ’94 (P ’28, ’30) wrote. “Now, as a parent, I can’t imagine my kids having 23 percent of their friends—the current percentage of students who receive an average of $28,000 a year in aid—not being able to attend.”

On the 48 Hours for Scholars website, where community members were making their gifts toward financial aid, donors offered matching funds to encourage community members they may never have met to give generously. Through good-natured challenges and “competitions” among current parents, alumni, and parents of alumni, the Sidwell Friends community channeled the spirit of unity they feel during A Night for Scholars: watching the Fund-a-Scholar total tick higher during the paddle raising, cheering one another on, working together to create opportunities for all students.

When Judith Barnett (GP ’26, ’29) learned how important 48 Hours for Scholars was for families in need, she, Joanne Smith (GP ’29, ’31), and Aggie Aurbach (P ’81, ’86, GP ’20, ’22) rallied the Grandparents Steering Committee to match contributions on the second day: “We raised about $15,000 in just one day!” In response to this challenge, one grandparent, who had made her first gift to Sidwell Friends at the start of the campaign, doubled down with a second gift.

After the frenzy of generosity was over, the 36 volunteers whose efforts made 48 Hours for Scholars a success marveled at the results: $438,720 donated by 869 donors over two days. For some, the diversity of participants—alumni in the Class of 1958, students in the Class of 2030, parents
from the Classes of 2000 and 2010 celebrating their children’s Reunion years—was as significant as the total amount raised.

“The high participation rate during our first 48-hour virtual challenge showed a strong commitment to the School’s mission, excellence, and compassion by the broad Sidwell Friends community,” Joanna Wang and Kevin Lu (P ’22 and ’24) said. “Together, we have just blazed a new trail for our scholars—and may they thrive in our community.”

As Prieto noted, this new incarnation of one of the School’s signature fundraising efforts for financial aid might just have a place even when campus reopens for good:

“I am gratified that 48 Hours for Scholars was so successful. #newfundraisingmodel!”



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