When Stone Bridge High School was putting together their production of “Suessical the Musical” last spring members of the drama department realized they needed different lights than what the school had on hand. Instead of having to raise money to pay for the new intelligent lights, students went to the Piedmont Arts Foundation for help. They wrote a letter to the foundation explaining their reason for wanting the lights. With money donated by the foundation, Stone Bridge was able to borrow the lights from its neighbor Broad Run High School. Stone Bridge went on to win the Cappie award for Best Musical.
“That wouldn’t have been possible if there had not been a way to bring these 10 high schools together,” John Pendola, the foundation’s president, said.
The Piedmont Arts Foundation, a small local nonprofit organization, focuses on creating cooperation between all of the county’s high schools’ drama departments in an effort to raise money for the programs.
“This is truly 10 high schools getting together and combining their drama departments,” Pendola said.
AT THE HEART of the foundation are the students themselves, who do most of the decision making for the organization. Each year the foundation has a student board, made up this year of 20 students from around the county, with four elected officers. It is the students who bring up issues and problems and figure out ways to solve them. It was the students, Pendola said, who brought Stone Bridge’s problem with lighting to the attention of other board members and figured out how they could help.
“[Borrowing from Broad Run] would not have been possible if there had not been a way to bring these 10 schools together,” he said.
THE FOUNDATION was founded in 2004 after Stone Bridge High School students Nicholas Pendola and Anthony Mason were killed in a car accident that March. Nik, as he was known, was a sophomore at the time of his death and an aspiring actor. Tony, who was a senior, was involved in the technical aspects of the theater.
“Tony was a kid who lived in the drama department,” Pendola said. “It really was his life.”
Instead of giving flowers, friends and families were asked by Tony and Nik’s families to donate money to Stone Bridge’s drama department. More than $60,000 was collected.
“We looked around and realized there was no organization in Loudoun County to support these departments,” Pendola said.
“[Drama] is readily cut when things get tight,” Lennis Klenk, a parent and board member, said. “It is important to continue to support that with our kids.”
Originally named the Tony and Nik Foundation, the organization was created as a way to honor the memories of the two friends and support what they loved.
Almost every person involved in the organization was touched by the two boys in some way.
“My freshman year, they were the ones that got me involved in drama,” Sabrina Ripperger, the student board’s president, said. “This was a way to see that their deaths were not in vain.”
NOW IN ITS second year, the foundation is shifting more and more of the responsibilities to the students on their board.
“It is important now that they run everything,” Pendola said. “They’re in charge of raising the money. They’re in charge of how it gets spent.”
Having students in charge of the decision making is an important part of staying active in the schools, Klenk said.
“[Parents] don’t know what would be the most meaningful to them,” she said.
Ripperger said having students as decision makers has been surprisingly easy.
“They are more in touch with the needs of the departments,” she said. “They have a better idea of what the schools need and what they’d like to see happen.”
Just like the lighting needs of Stone Bridge, the Piedmont Arts Foundation fields requests from students and drama departments throughout the year. Each request is made with a letter about the reasons for the requests and what would be required. Student board members review each letter and make a decision about donating money.
“This is really a bonding experience for these students,” Klenk said.
Since the organization is a public charity, the students must present their decisions to the adult board members for approval, but they have yet to be vetoed.
“It is really amazing to watch,” Pendola said. “They’re taking this seriously. They are considering the future consequences of each of their decisions. What precedents they are setting with each approval.”
THIS YEAR the board has already held two fundraisers, a car wash and bake sale and a sale through Virginia Diner. This spring board members hope to hold an all-county dance, with every school’s fine arts department in attendance.
“We constantly want to help unify drama in the county,” Ripperger said. “This year we are trying to put together a plan for how to start a big fundraising event.”
At the end of each year, any fundraising money left over is used for unrestricted grants for graduating seniors. The organization decided not to make their grants college scholarships because, Pendola said, not everyone interested in theater will continue with school.
“We don’t want this to be about college,” he said. “We want this to be about theater.”
The student board votes on the applications and decides how they believe the money should be divvied out.
In the years to come, those involved with the organization simply hope that they will be able to help support the love of theater is high school students throughout the county.
“If you become involved with the arts, that is something you can carry with you throughout your life,” Klenk said.
For Ripperger, it is important that her board be a positive role model for future boards.
“We have been getting a lot of support from the community and I hope that continues over the years,” she said. “Tony and Nik would have wanted that."