Whether it's supporting girls softball, aiding teenagers with scholarships, or sponsoring local concerts, the HK Community Fund has become a force of financial and community support in the Maplewood/South Orange area.
The HK Community Fund, founded in 2009 by Tom Kerns and his wife Jeanmarie Hargrave (yes, she's the "H" in HK) is an organization that, according to Kerns, has a core mission of "enhancing the sense of belonging in the community." To achieve this goal, HK has established programs in a handful of areas including education, "teenage involvement," and arts and cultural events.
The Hargrave-Kerns family has lived in Maplewood for 15 years. Jeanmarie is a vice president and board member, other board members are Maplewood resident Steven Tugentman and John Kuhn of Westfield. Tom and Jeanmarie have three children: Kathryn, who attends American University; Maura, a junior at Kent Place School, and Erin, who will be a freshman at Morristown Beard.
Two pivotal events have helped motivate the Hargrave-Kerns family to give back to the community. In 2001 Jeanmarie's brother, Timothy John, or TJ, was killed in the World Trade Center terrorist attacks. In 2006, Jeanmarie underwent major surgery which required many months of rehabilitation.
Kerns said, "People came out of the woodwork to help our family." In 2006, someone started a food drive and meals were delivered to the family every day, so they could care for Jeanmarie. Said Kerns, "After both of these events people I'd never seen before showed up to help, and some of them I wouldn't see again." The gratitude that Kerns's felt motivated them to give something back to the community.
Education is a primary focus of HK, and thus, the fund has established the new HK Community Scholarship. This award is designed to encourage teenage volunteer efforts in the Maplewood-South Orange community and will be given to one local graduating high school senior. The amount varies from $1,000 and $5,000. The winner must have averaged at least 36 hours of community service in each of the previous two years (24 months) from the date of the application. Academic achievement and financial need are taken into account in determining the recipient.
HK in conjunction with JelleyJoint has also created the HK Foundations Center. This center will allow local students to attend workshops and build their skills in various media arts and software applications such as Garage Band, iPhoto, Aperture, Logic 9, iMovie, web development and blog creation.
HK has other programs that foster volunteerism for young people of Maplewood and South Orange. Said Kerns, "If we can help our youth develop a sense of commitment that in itself will pay huge dividends in the future, either locally or whereever they reside."
To support this effort HK provides teenagers with opportunities to perform community service, something Kerns calls "teenage altruism." HK acts as a broker for volunteer opportunities reaching out to its database of over 100 seventh to 12th graders. These students have volunteered at numerous events including Maplewoodstock, First Night, Maplewood MayFest, Celebrate South Orange, Rock the House, Maplewood Green Team, and the YMCA Haunted House.
Another category of services that the foundation provides is the HK CARE (Community Assistance & Resources for Emergencies) Program. HK acts as liaison to coordinate emergency assistance to those in need. Last year, HK served as the clearinghouse for donations to assist a family who lost its home in a house fire on Jacoby Street.
The fund also has a strong presence in cultural affairs and the arts, as Kerns believes that this is the "best way of bringing the community together." In this vein, HK has acted as a financial sponsor for various events including Maplewoodstock, Rent Parties, Rock the House, Paws for a Cause, Maplewood Community Garden, South Orange Community Garden and Celebrate South Orange. HK is currently working with local residents and artists Alex Kariotis and Aimee Willis on a fall musical extravaganza show to raise money for families dealing with ALS.
Even before Jeanmarie's illness, Kerns began searching for ways to contribute. In 2004, Kerns, along with local residents Hank Zona and Sandy Smith (later to be joined by Lisa Nolet), stepped up to run and reorganize the local Maplewood South Orange Girls Softball League. Due to the dedication of many volunteers, the softball program is a thriving entity with over 20 teams and more than 300 players. Fast forward to 2008 and Kerns is speaking to Gary Shippy, one of the primary forces behind Maplewoodstock, about how he could help sponsor the two-day concert event.
Several of the HK programs began as ideas from community members. Kerns was approached by two local residents who wanted to sponsor local students to attend summer camp. These residents offered financial support for this effort and Kerns agreed to have the fund match their contributions. This past summer the HK Camp Fund program enabled nine local kids to attend camp.
Kerns was proud of this effort. "The ability to get involved in organized activities, particularly camp or sleep-away camp is important," said Kerns. "Kids who can't afford this should be given the opportunity."
At its inception, HK was fortunate enough to receive start-up funds from a couple of anonymous donors. For long-term funding, HK plans to hold various fundraisers. A recent fundraiser this past June at St. James's Gate raised money for the HK Foundations Center. HK's website also allows interested parties to donate via Pay Pal and allows the donor to identify which HK program they wish their donation to support. [Note: The HK Community Fund is a registered 501(c)(3) organization, and contributions are tax deductible, to the extent allowed by law.]
Kerns emphasized that one of the reasons that he created HK is that he wanted to create a legacy for his three children. In the long term, Kerns hopes, "HK receives enough in donations and grants that will not only allow us to expand programs in Maplewood and South Orange, but the HK brand can be expanded to other communities, so that others can experience an enhanced sense of belonging."
The home page of the HK Community Fund website contains the following quote from George Bernard Shaw: "I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the community, and as long as I live, it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can."