SOUTH ORANGE / MAPLEWOOD, NJ — Dinner parties will be happening all around Maplewood and South Orange throughout the month of March as part of Achieve Foundation’s “Nights of 100 Dinners” fundraiser, raising money for the South Orange-Maplewood School District. Volunteer hosts throw parties and, instead of bringing a host a gift or dessert, guests donate to Achieve. In the 15th year of the fundraiser, the organization continues to raise money for teacher grants, and fund a tutoring program, professional development and other programs in the district.
According to Christine Houseworth, the fundraiser’s co-chairwoman, “Nights of 100 Dinners” raised $54,000 in 2018, and the 2019 goal is $50,000. There are 40 dinners planned around the two towns and seven public events will also be held to contribute to the fund.
“Guests pay to go rather than bringing a host gift,” Houseworth said in a phone interview with the News-Record on Feb. 28. “After raising $54,000 last year, $50,000 is a doable goal.”
A member of Achieve or someone from the school district is invited to each of the parties to talk about the benefits that come from the fundraising. Houseworth said that not all of the parties are for adults; some are geared toward families and children.
“The host is free to do what they want,” she said. “Some do themes. We’ve had one where the guests had to wear all green because it was around St. Patrick’s Day and this year someone is doing a pajama party with breakfast for dinner. They’re all pretty fun.”
Ilena Silverman and her husband have been hosting dinner parties for “Nights of 100 Dinners” for the last 12 years, only skipping a year in 2017, when they renovated their kitchen. The Maplewood residents have one child in college and two who are students at Columbia High School and who work as tutors for younger students.
“Our neighbor asked us to host years ago and we’ve been doing it ever since,” Silverman said in a phone interview with the News-Record on March 1. “My husband loves to cook, so he likes to make something special for it. The thing that I like to do, which is nerve-wracking, is invite people I don’t know very well.”
Silverman tries to invite acquaintances rather than close friends from the community so she can get to know them better, and also tries to invite people she thinks will get along with one another. One person on her guest list this year is someone that she sees on the platform of the train station every morning.
“There’s a certain energy in the house when people get together for dinner,” Silverman said. “I think people feel good about contributing and coming together for the community.”
Despite the fact that many people at Silverman’s party don’t know one another, she said the conversation is never awkward or stilted.
“I try to invite people who have things in common,” she said. “They have kids the same age or at the same school. We make sure everyone feels comfortable. It’s never awkward; it’s always jovial. There’s always stuff to talk about when you live in the same community. This year everyone is coming, they all said ‘I don’t really know you, but I’ll come to your house!’”
Though Silverman’s three children are involved in the tutoring program that the fundraising helps to support, residents don’t have to directly benefit to contribute.
“If you have a kid in the district, they automatically benefit from it,” she said. “It’s a nice thing that benefits all kids, not just your own. Even when the auditorium floors were redone, we’ve all sat in those seats and it’s nice to know you were a part of it.”
To become involved with Achieve Foundation and “Nights of 100 Dinners,” visit www.achievefoundation.org.
Photos Courtesy of Noelle Harteveld