Haddonfield's homes gloriously decorated for the holidays will benefit a decidedly shabbier looking room this year.
The annual Holiday House Tour in Haddonfield both provides the thrill—and sometimes a bit of low-level envy—of homes decked out for the season, while also benefitting a worthy community cause.
This year, the Dec. 8 tour proceeds will go to Lights, Camera, Action!, a nonprofit organization established several years ago to modernize and modify the auditorium at Haddonfield Memorial High School.
Previous recipients of the tour, now in its 11th year, include the Haddonfield Historical Society, HATCH (the dinosaur sculpture project), Markeim Arts Center, Haddon Fortnightly, Interfaith Caregivers, and Friends of the Library.
Tickets are $15 in advance or $20 on the day of the tour. They may be purchased online at www.haddonfieldnj.org, or in person or by check or credit card at the Haddonfield Information Center at 2 Kings Court. Advance tickets also may be purchased for cash at the information center or at any of the participating homes on the day of the event. The phone number for the information center is 856-216-7253.
Over the past decade, the house tour has raised $17,000-$20,000 each year, said Arlene Fiorilli, event co-chair. About 2,500 tickets are sold annually.
Fiorilli’s co-chair, Betsy Anderson, said the Holiday House Tour board of directors each year solicits requests for the tour beneficiary from all of the nonprofit agencies in town.
“Probably 50 or 70 organizations get a letter and this year we got seven or eight applications,” said Anderson. Lights, Camera, Action! won out because “they are trying to raise a huge sum and this is a way to help them,” she added.
An auditorium in disrepair
Janice W. Hunt, a Haddonfield resident for about 15 years, is the push behind the auditorium renovation project. The high school auditorium, she said, hasn’t been updated since the 1960s, other than minor modifications to the lighting system about 10 years ago. Committee co-chair Deanna Burney noted South Jersey Magazine has recognized Haddonfield's student body its level of artistic talent.
Yet, said Hunt, “The auditorium hasn’t been painted in years and the stage curtains are faded and torn. The initial target price of improvements was about $150,000."
In 2010, the group applied for a matching grant from the State of New Jersey, which approved the expenditure of $400,000, with $240,000, or 60 percent, to be raised locally. There is a 2013 deadline to use the state funds.
Hunt said the school district has advertised for bids for an improved sound system, which she considers the most crucial and most expensive portion of the re-do, with an estimated cost of $75,000.
Other projects to be tackled later include a new lighting system, at about $37,000, stage draperies at $30,000, and miscellaneous improvements like paint, about $8,000.
The borough school board is pleased that the auditorium project will have additional financial support generated by the house tour, said Steven Weinstein, president of the Board of Education.
"We are grateful that this longstanding holiday tradition is assisting in this campaign started and pushed entirely by volunteers. Hopefully this funding will complete the goals. Together with the fundraising and the use of some grants, we will move forward with Phase 1 and the new sound system that will enhance the quality drama and music programs put on by our students."
"Our buildings are old and in need of constant updating but it is the involvement of our parents and community that allows us not only to maintain our quality, but to teach our students the value of community and the uniqueness of Haddonfield,” Weinstein added.
The high school was built in 1926 and dedicated to the memory of borough residents who participated in World War I.
The volunteer group has been working with a pro bono consultant, experienced with architects and engineers as well as with the performing arts. Services have included advice in areas including room acoustics, building sound and vibration isolation, mechanical and electrical noise, theater lighting and rigging, seating and sightlines, and audiovisual technology and broadcast communications.
The auditorium seats more than 700, making it Haddonfield's largest capacity facility. Hunt, whose youngest child graduated from the high school three years ago, said many students participate in music, art, drama and dance activities and work hard to prepare programs to showcase their talent.
“The kids are so excited to perform and then they run into problems with lighting and sound when the show begins. Several years ago, the students did a production called Dante’s Inferno involving the band, the chorus and dancers, orators and a slide show. On the night of the show, you couldn’t hear the chorus because there were no standing microphones.
“That was the night I said, ‘We have to do something. I’m going to step up to the plate.’ I didn’t think it would last for more than three years to get to this point,” said Hunt, who grew up in Barrington but participated in many programs in Haddonfield because she was a member of the Haddonfield Baptist Church, where her grandfather was a minister.
Community effort takes center stage
The project seeks donations in many forms, including placing small plaques on auditorium seats for $100. “I’ve recorded every check we’ve gotten and I feel committed that if we don’t follow through that money will be returned. It’s thrilling to me when someone sends a check for $100 in the memory of someone, and even more fulfilling when I get a $25 check with a scratchy signature that I know is from a senior citizen. All that seed money is accounted for, every dollar going to what it was intended for,” she said.
Tax-deductible funds are deposited in the Haddonfield Educational Trust. Checks can be mailed to 1 Lincoln Ave., Haddonfield, NJ 08033 with a memo notation “HMHS Lights, Camera, Action.”
Earlier fundraising events included a dinner theater event at Tavistock County Club; a fundraiser at the Pop Shop in Collingswood, where a portion of the night’s receipts were set aside for the project; another fundraiser at the Silver Dollar Diner in Cherry Hill; donation of a portion prom flowers sales from Sansone & Company florists; and a one-woman show at Haddonfield Plays and Players by Haddonfield graduate Emily Vick.
In addition to soliciting contributions to the “name a chair” program, the committee has targeted specific graduating classes, including 1956, 1960, 1961, and 1988, Hunt said.
“We all have our pet projects (with the school district). Someone wants a French teacher, or a better equipped art room. There’s no money in the budget for our special projects, but so many talented kids have gone through Haddonfield and gone on to careers in the arts.
“I wanted to find like-minded people to support this (auditorium) project, and to set up a process where people can get together to put their community skills to work for a goal.
“I’m hoping the holiday house tour will put us over the top, to put our fund-raising over the $90,000 mark. My dream is to end the school year by showing what we could do,” Hunt said.
Hunt said about 50 volunteers have worked on the project at various stages. “Everybody has a lot of ideas and we’ll use anything, we’ll try anything. There are grass-roots opportunities just as important as big money-makers," she said.