For the third-consecutive year, Assistant Dean of College Counseling Britt Freitag and history teacher Hannah Higgin, PhD, teamed up to organize a massive tag sale benefiting “Blair in Kenya,” an independent nonprofit founded by history teacher Quint Clarke ’87 that provides vital educational, medical and economic opportunities to hundreds of Kenyans.
The sale, which became an annual event thanks to Ms. Freitag and Dr. Higgin’s tireless work to make it more successful each year, coincides with Blairstown’s town-wide yard sale in September. Over the last three years, they have volunteered hundreds of hours of their time and raised more than $25,000 for “Blair in Kenya,” while at the same time repurposed and recycled belongings that would have otherwise gone into dumpsters as Blair students departed for the summer.
Supporting Mr. Clarke, a “really incredible colleague” whose nonprofit has built two Kenyan schools from the ground up, is, of course, a priority, as is sustaining a more eco-friendly campus by keeping items such as clothing and room furnishings out of the landfill. The fact that the event more closely connects Blair faculty and students to the local community is an added bonus.
Calling the tag sale a “win-win-win-win,” Ms. Freitag and Dr. Higgin are incredibly proud that this collaboration continues to raise thousands of dollars. Whereas proceeds totaled $4,000 during their first year in 2015, that doubled to $8,000 in 2016 and increased again to $13,000 this past year. “The money not only goes to a good cause, but literally tons upon tons of items are kept from a landfill,” said Ms. Freitag. “Our students learn about waste and conspicuous consumption and get to buy good stuff at great prices.” And, anything they don’t sell is given to the Salvation Army or otherwise outsourced to charities—literally, nothing goes to waste.
A Dream Since High School
For Dr. Higgin, “saving all the things that get left behind when boarding students leave at the end of the school year,” selling those items and “giving that money to charity” has been a dream since she was a student at Choate Rosemary Hall in Connecticut. “I remember helping my friends pack up and seeing what got abandoned because there just wasn’t enough space in their suitcases or parents’ cars to take it all home,” she said. “When people live in a place for a whole school year, they accumulate a lot more than they realize! I was always alarmed by so much nice stuff—designer clothes, printers, etc.—just getting thrown out. It struck me as bad for the environment and wasteful when those things could be reused or at least donated to people in need if not sold to raise money.”
As a teacher in her high school’s summer program, Dr. Higgin salvaged anything that was in good shape—including still-packaged food—to donate to a local homeless shelter, first on a small scale in her dorm and then, with the help of Choate’s sustainability director on a larger scale in all dorms on campus. “Stemming from that, she actually now runs a sale there annually, on a much smaller scale than the one at Blair,” explained Dr. Higgin.
Noting that all residential schools—high school and college—have the same problem, Dr. Higgin said she was “really lucky to find a willing, equally driven, and similarly motivated partner” in Ms. Freitag when she arrived here. “We launched this huge project at the end of my first year at Blair, and it’s only grown in scope and profits since. Less makes it into the dumpsters, and we raise money for an amazing cause,” she said.
Organizing, Prepping & Selling to the Community
For the past couple of years, Ms. Freitag and Dr. Higgin have taken advantage of the many helping hands available during Blair’s springtime Day of Service, when volunteers help them sort and organize clothes (a task they had tackled alone in their first year). Using the Park Street maker space as a base of operations, they continue to prepare items for sale over the summer months.
The fact that all proceeds benefit “Blair in Kenya” is one of the main reasons for its success, added Ms. Freitag. “People are drawn to support ‘Blair in Kenya’ because they know Quint Clarke, and they understand all of the good work he is doing,” she said. “Personally, I love that this project saves tons of perfectly good items from going into the dumpsters and then translates those items into liquid assets that go a really long way for the schools in Kenya. It seems karmically perfect, somehow. The fact that Q is such a beloved member of our community helps ‘sell’ the good work.”
Reflecting on her boarding school background, Dr. Higgin recalled learning about Mr. Clarke’s nonprofit during her Blair job interview with history department chair Jason Beck. “One of the things I really missed about boarding school was having charitable work be a community norm, and so that was one of the things I asked about,” she said. “It’s incredible to see how far money can go on these projects, and the Tag Sale for Kenya enables me to raise much more money than I would be able to give on my own.”
Invaluable Volunteers & Community Support
While Ms. Freitag and Dr. Higgin are the driving force behind the tag sale, both were quick to recognize the many Blair faculty and staff members who contributed their time and effort to the cause over the last three years. “A number of faculty members have gone above and beyond for the project—we certainly couldn’t do it by ourselves!” Ms. Freitag said. Among those who have been “instrumental” to their efforts are Day Student Coordinator Lois Stival, “Blair in Kenya” founder Q Clarke and his wife, Blair English teacher Sarah O’Neil, admission associate Susie Antonelli and library assistant Kate Skeffington. “So many people have chipped in where they are able to, and it’s the cumulative effect of all those many helpers that creates a wave of energy that gets it all done!”
Calling both Mrs. Stival and Ms. Freitag “brilliant at organizing and coordinating help,” Dr. Higgin credited the support of “many wonderful people for many, many hours” as they saved more items than ever from going into dumpsters and then processing and organizing everything for last month’s sale. She was especially thankful to Mrs. Stival, who recruited day student volunteers to return to campus after the close of school to help sort out left-behind belongings, which proved invaluable to the efforts for the 2018 sale.
Even with all the help they’ve received from the Blair community, Ms. Freitag and Dr. Higgin put in a staggering number of hours to ensure the tag sale goes off without a hitch and raises more money each year. The duo is already looking forward to 2019, when the event may include a pre-sale for the Blair community or perhaps be expanded to a two-weekend sale.