Revival of Cherry Hill Education Foundation rallies community around school district

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It was during the 2006–07 school year when Eleanor Stofman, a former Cherry Hill board of education member and long-time supporter of the school district, wanted to help raise money for Cherry Hill Public Schools as a response to the district’s declining state aid money.

“I had always been working with my friends and colleagues to keep up with the school district,” Stofman said. “I got together some friends who were supportive.”

Stofman visited with then-superintendent David Campbell to see if she could start a nonprofit to help raise money for Cherry Hill schools. Instead of starting a new organization, however, Stofman and the community ended up resurrecting another nonprofit, the Cherry Hill Education Foundation.
The foundation was originally formed in 1998 also in response to declining state aid for Cherry Hill Public Schools. However, the organization had not been active for a few years.

Since the foundation’s re-launch in 2007, it has become a huge part of the community. The foundation has raised almost $900,000 since 2007 and has brought the Cherry Hill community together through a few different fundraisers.

The foundation was able to get off the ground in a big way in 2008 with the first-ever Dancing with the Cherry Hill Stars, a fundraising event based off of the ABC television show.

“I loved Dancing with the Stars on television and was taking lessons at Arthur Murray Dance Studio,” Stofman said.

The event was combination of entertainment and philanthropy. Public figures from Cherry Hill Schools, government, businesses, organizations and more would raise money ahead of the show for the foundation. The show would be structured similar to the television show, with each of the contestants pairing off and performing a number on stage.

To get the show off the ground, Stofman gained the support of then Cherry Hill West principal Joe Meloche and enlisted the help of Cherry Hill West alum Drew Molotsky to direct the show.

“Once they all said yes, I then tried to involve the entire community,” Stofman said. “It was a true community effort trying to pull in and get together as many people as possible.”

The show was extremely popular from the beginning and quickly became a fixture on the community calendar. Businesses and organizations began to contact the foundation to become partners and dozens of people with connections to Cherry Hill expressed a willingness to participate in the event.

“The competition was originally for who would raise the most money,” Stofman said. “Since that time, we’ve built on that and we’ve made it bigger.”

Some of the changes from the first year include an expanded lineup of dancers, professional judges who hand out awards to the best dancers, online audience voting in addition to voting at the show and a $1,000 minimum fundraising goal for all couples.

Building relationships with the community through Dancing with the Cherry Hill Stars helped the foundation launch its newest project last year. Cherry Hill Opoly, a Monopoly-like board game centered around famous places in Cherry Hill, was released late in 2014.

The foundation partnered with Cherry Hill Township, Cherry Hill Public Schools and a number of iconic businesses to make the board game a reality. In the first nine months of its release, more than 1,500 games were sold, with proceeds going to the foundation.

“We’re still selling the game,” Stofman said. “It’s an ongoing project that really catapulted us.”

Dancing with the Cherry Hill Stars, Cherry Hill Opoly and the foundation’s annual golf tournament are the three major fundraisers, but the foundation also has smaller scale fundraisers and community members can make donations at any time.

All of the foundation’s money has gone back into Cherry Hill Public Schools, with most of the money funding grants. Teachers in Cherry Hill schools can apply for the grants to fund upgrades for their classroom, special projects or programs.

Stofman said she never thought the foundation would be this successful today when she began her involvement eight years ago. She believes with the continuing involvement of the community, the foundation will be successful for many years to come.

“When you have a community with all those major arms helping you and wanting you to succeed, it just gives you more energy to get better,” Stofman said.