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Penny Harvest Group Facing Closure

Wednesday, October 02, 2013 - 04:00 AM

Teddy Gross, founder of Common Cents and its annual Penny Harvest, at P.S. 51 in Manhattan in 2012 (Beth Fertig/WNYC)

A popular children's program on the verge of closing said the city's Department of Education is to blame for its financial straits.

The annual and ubiquitous Penny Harvest, in which students raise heaps (and heaps) of pennies each year, is run by a program called Common Cents. Classrooms throughout the city take part in the project with students deciding which causes should benefit from their fundraising.

Founder Teddy Gross said the non-profit hit hard times after the 2008 recession. When the city asked Gross to participate in a massive fundraising program for the 9/11 Memorial Museum, in 2011, he asked the Department of Education to return the favor by helping Common Cents raise $200,000.

"Their response was 'peanuts,'" said Gross, meaning D.O.E. officials said they would have no trouble helping out. Two years later he is still waiting for the money and unable to meet payroll after October 15.

"They could have just said no," said Gross. "But instead they didn't. They said we're going to do everything we can and we're going to do the best we can, and then they would say things like we don't want to over-promise but we're going to make our best effort and they were so, so sincere."

The Department of Education denied making any firm financial commitments, however.

"We worked hard to deliver a $200,000 contract to Mr. Gross’s organization to help us with a special service learning project, but we made no financial commitments – and signed no contracts – beyond that," said spokeswoman Erin Hughes. 

Nevertheless, she said the agency did try to lend a helping hand to his struggling charity by connecting him to various foundations, "which helped him gain $50,000 in funding last year."

But Gross said that was an overstatement. Furthermore, The New York Times listened to recordings Gross made of conversations with a D.O.E. staff member who admitted to "screw ups along the way."

Gross said the program's annual budget is $1.2 million, which pays for 6 full-time staff members. They visit private and public schools and develop curriculum materials and professional development around the Penny Harvest. There are 721 schools participating this year.

The Penny Harvest has raised a total of $9.5 million for community-based organizations since 1991.

When asked about other potential funders, Gross said it's become difficult to compete with the city's own aggressive fundraising around schools.

"We go to a lot of foundations that say they're tapped out for education," he said.

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Comments [27]

Susan from Upper West Side

I have known Teddy Gross and have admired his accomplishment in building Common Cents, a unique organization. That $10 million-plus has been raised from his inspired recognition that every household has a stash of pennies is staggering. Those funds have made a difference to thousands of lives. Equally, or perhaps even more important, is the way the the Penny Harvest enabled children and young adults to learn about the needs of others and empowered to thoughtfully provide assistance. The lessons learned by these students are invaluable to developing citizens who not only want to repair the world but also have some tools to do it!

It is shameful that a source of funding cannot be found to ensure the continuity of Common Cents.

Dec. 23 2013 11:34 PM
Vanessa from Astoria, Queens

Penny Harvest should carry on!! It's role is unique and should not have to compete with other Education Funds.

Oct. 08 2013 09:53 PM
Angie

I think Common Cents shouldn’t close. I also think the Department of Education should give them money so the schools that work with Common Cents , can keep on having the Penny Harvest. Common Cents uses the money we earn to help organizations and they need our support.

--Angie L. PS 112 Brooklyn, NY

Oct. 08 2013 02:53 PM
Angie

I think Common Cents shouldn’t close. I also think the Department of Education should give them money so the schools that work with Common Cents , can keep on having the Penny Harvest. Common Cents uses the money we earn to help organizations and they need our support.

--Angie L. PS 112 Brooklyn, NY

Oct. 08 2013 02:53 PM
John

I am a student from Roundtable at P.S 112.I think Penny Harvest should still go on because they are raising money for Marching Dimes and give money to people and children who are poor and sick .So Department of Education should help them.
-John, PS 112, Brooklyn, NY

Oct. 08 2013 02:51 PM
John

I am a student from Roundtable at P.S 112.I think Penny Harvest should still go on because they are raising money for Marching Dimes and give money to people and children who are poor and sick .So Department of Education should help them.
-John, PS 112, Brooklyn, NY

Oct. 08 2013 02:51 PM
Muhammad

The D.O.E should have kept their promise. Common Cents needs money not for a bad reason but a good reason. Every year, 721 schools get supplies from Common Cents so they can have Penny Harvest, which will give money for the needy. Common Cents does the D.O.E a huge favor, and the D.O.E doesn’t repay them a cent to continue to help the needy! If the D.O.E doesn’t repay Common Cents, that means they don’t want to help the needy! That is very bad! But if the D.O.E does repay Common Cents, Penny Harvest doesn’t stop, the needy gets money and Common Cents can continue for many years! The D.O.E should repay a favor and help the needy.
-Muhammad, PS 112, Brooklyn, NY

Oct. 08 2013 02:49 PM
Rachel

I think Penny Harvest by Common Cents is very helpful and important. All these years they have tried to donate money to help the ones who couldn’t help themselves. Now, the D.O.E. (Department of Education) is letting them down. This means we can’t help them anymore. This isn’t fair because we aren’t just letting Penny Harvest down, but letting kids who need our help down too! Common Cents is going to shut down because of the D.O.E., who agreed after 9/11 to help them by saying “peanuts” meaning they would have no trouble helping out. Well, they aren’t!
~Rachel H. P.S.112 Grade 5 Brooklyn N.Y.

Oct. 08 2013 02:46 PM
Crystal

I`m on Roundtable and a student of P.S. 112. Our Roundtable have worked together for many years, supporting organizations that help people who can`t care for themselves. But, Common Cents is facing closure. Without Common Cents, we can`t donate to organizations who help people. Without Common Cents and us donating to organizations, all the things we do to help people that can`t care for themselves will stay the way they are. Please help support Common Cents!
~~ Crystal L. P.S. 112 Grade 5 Brooklyn N.Y.

Oct. 08 2013 02:45 PM
Cynthia

I am a student from PS112 who participates in Penny Harvest every year. I am very sad that Common Cents is on the verge of closing. I’m even more upset because I donate money to this special organization to help everyone who is less fortunate meet their needs. Without Penny Harvest, the less fortunate would suffer.
~~ Cynthia L. PS112 5th grade Brooklyn N.Y.

Oct. 08 2013 02:41 PM
Mei Tong

I’m from PS112 who participates in the Penny Harvest every year. I feel that Common Cents shouldn’t close because every year thousands of schools participate in Penny Harvest and raise thousands of pennies to help our community. Without Penny Harvest, organizations we donated to before, wouldn’t get donations from us again to help our community. As you can see, Common Cents shouldn’t close forever!
~~Mei Tong I. PS112 grade 5 Brooklyn N.Y

Oct. 08 2013 02:40 PM
Erica

Penny Harvest is facing closure? That's ridiculous! Penny Harvest has done many great unforgettable things for a variety of organizations to help them with their work. Penny Harvest should not close down just because they are running out of money. The Department of Education to help Penny Harvest. They promised to give them $200,000 to keep running. But now they are denying that they promised to help!
Erica
PS 112
Grade 5

Oct. 08 2013 02:36 PM
Erica

Penny Harvest is facing closure? That's ridiculous! Penny Harvest has done many great unforgettable things for a variety of organizations to help them with their work. Penny Harvest should not close down just because they are running out of money. The Department of Education to help Penny Harvest. They promised to give them $200,000 to keep running. But now they are denying that they promised to help!

Oct. 08 2013 02:35 PM
Nadine

Penny Harvest shouldn’t be closing down because the Department of Education is not giving them the money they promised. It isn’t fair for us and especially the organizations that need the money that we donate after penny harvest. I think it’s also not fair for the kindergarten students because they never experienced the feeling of penny harvest. The kids that need the money won’t get it anymore and we won’t be able to help organizations who also help people.
~~ Nadine Z. P.S.112 Grade 5 Brooklyn, NY

Oct. 08 2013 02:32 PM
Nadine

Penny Harvest shouldn’t be closing down because the Department of Education is not giving them the money they promised. It isn’t fair for us and especially the organizations that need the money that we donate after penny harvest. I think it’s also not fair for the kindergarten students because they never experienced the feeling of penny harvest. The kids that need the money won’t get it anymore and we won’t be able to help organizations who also help people.
~~ Nadine Z. P.S.112 Grade 5 Brooklyn, NY

Oct. 08 2013 02:32 PM
Jane

Common Cents has been very valuable to the community in past years through their work with Penny Harvest. Not only by way of the contributions the program has made to the less fortunate, but in teaching children to be philanthropists at a young age. Common Cents has cultivated concerned, proactive community members. It would be a shame if no one steps up to the plate to help Common Cents during their time of need, the way Common Cents has stepped up to the plate to improve the community at large.

Oct. 08 2013 02:26 PM
L. GReenwald from qUEENS

Before I was a teacher my children participated in the Penny Harvest right through h.s. When I became a teacher I was excited to particpate through my students. Each year I save my pennies to help my class. I even became a coach at my school. I have watched students become involved in the larger community and it's needs through the Penny Harvest. We have to wrk - we teach the students about areas of giving, they decide where the money goes and we do drives as well to help other organizations. My student take pride in helping out others. NYC DOE should not reneg on their promises. With the amount of waste from the DOE you could fund Common CEnts for a decaDE

Oct. 06 2013 06:42 PM
Lisa from Forest Hills, NY

Penny Harvest is part of the culture at my son's school. The students, parents and teachers are all deeply involved in the program. All the students collect pennies and all the students vote on what charities receive the collected money. The program helps develop the students' math skills, writing skills, public speaking skills and well as compassion for others and a sense of being part of a larger community. It would be doing the students a huge disservice if Penny Harvest did not continue. The Department of Education is spending millions of dollars on testing and curriculum that is unproven. This program works and the vital funding is a drop in the bucket of what the DOE spends.

Oct. 04 2013 12:49 PM
Christina from Brooklyn

The Penny Harvest has come to the aid of charities and causes all over the world for so many years. Now that they are in need who will be there to help them? Please let us try to save the Common Cents Penny Harvest!!

Oct. 04 2013 11:01 AM
sean kim from Little Neck

Save penny harvest. This was one of the legit foundations that I actually participated in. As a student of ps. 94 and now a bronx science student, I feel and I hope everyone feels that the penny harvest should not be closed down. The penny harvest is a program that not only helps certain causes and children, but it teaches kids to be kind and to always give. The penny harvest is also a cause that shows many kids to put a quote on their head, "every penny counts." Every year, I have participated on the penny harvest knowing that I, Sean Kim has helped a certain cause and that makes you feel jovial about yourself. From the penny harvest, I have learned to always give and help people at all times. Therefore, from this, I feel and I'm sure many others believe that Penny Harvest should be closed down. Thank you.

Oct. 03 2013 11:44 PM
Ava

As an alumni of PS6, the Penny Harvest is a huge part of my life. Starting in 3rd grade, I attended three years of weekly meetings during my lunch period to be a part of the Roundtable. In 4th grade, I was voted manager of the Roundtable after giving a speech to the other students. It is now 7 years later, and I vividly remember writing and delivering this speech. I remember the feeling of nervousness before the speech, and the feeling of relief after the speech. Once I finally won the election, there was much more work to be done. I ran meetings, contacted organizations, and much more. I also hosted the Tally Rally, the assembly at the close of the harvesting stage that celebrated all that the students did to help. I had to lead this hour-long event in front of the entire school; not to mention, students were especially excited this year because PS6 had reached the all-time Penny Harvest fundraising record. In my time at PS6, the school was also used as a pilot school for many of the other beneficial Common Cents projects, such as collecting toiletries for the Doe Fund and starting a recycling program in school. As you can see, the Penny Harvest was a huge deal at PS6, which is still one of the leading schools today. After graduating elementary school and moving on to middle school, I brought the Penny Harvest to NYC Lab School in 6th grade. Now, seven years later, and a junior at the Bronx High School of Science, I am starting my second year as an intern at Common Cents; I just couldn't stay away. The reason why I am telling my story is to show how much the Penny Harvest taught me. If it wasn't for this leadership opportunity Common Cents provided me with at such a young age, I never would have gotten over my nerves and stood up in front of all of those people. The Penny Harvest taught me how to be an effective leader in a way that I have used in many situations since. It taught me that even at a young age, children can make a huge difference in the world. For every student that experienced the Penny Harvest, it was more than just about giving back to the community; it was about leadership and the sense of power the students felt from participating. My peers at PS6 never stopped working hard and putting in all the effort they had to making the world a better place. Never have I heard of a program in which so many young students have are as passionate and dedicated as Penny Harvest students are. I speak on behalf of all Penny Harvest students when I say that seeing Common Cents close would be extremely devastating. When I heard about this news, I read through this article three times, because it troubled me so much. While I was lucky enough to have this experience as an elementary school student, the thought that so many future students may not be able to greatly upsets me.

Oct. 03 2013 11:28 PM
Liz from Forest Hills

Common Cents does everything at the highest level. They are an amazing organization that is is always looking to empower our youth. They do so much more than just collect pennies. We need this program saved! The city should make it right!

Oct. 03 2013 07:49 PM
Catherine

I volunteer for Common Cents and I am truly saddened by what is happening. Not only is the DOE doing Common Cents a disservice, but also to thousands and thousands of students that participate in the Penny Harvest. Its not just about the collection - its about the development of delegating, decision making, and critical thinking skills these children exercise by participating in this program; not to mention - an increased sense of empathy for those who are less fortunate. Maybe, the DOE should learn a thing or two from Common Cents. Especially when you know 200,000 is chump change for these DOE admin.

Oct. 03 2013 03:58 PM
Pedro de Llano

It makes sense that in a broken school system, based in acumalation of data that will be used with political purposes only, a program like PENNY HARVEST in which REAL EDUCATION goes in it's deepest meaming (experencing good values while instrution is givenn in interdisciplinary areas) is going to be closed.

Oct. 03 2013 02:48 PM
Pallavi Shastri from Corona, NY

This is an amazing program that I have been so proud to bring to my school for the past 8 years. It's a practical and easy way to let our young minds connect and feel part of the solution to the issues that their community and the country is facing. Penny Harvest is so incredibly empowering to a child who otherwise may be feeling so helpless about a problem!! This is the only program that asks a child, what issues do you care about? Let's raise funds and make grants! How do you think this grant will help solve the problem that your community is facing? This process enriches them with life skills such as decision making, interviewing, critical thinking, debating, teamwork and much more...

Oct. 03 2013 11:49 AM
Keith from New York

This must not happen. Students are the true s/heroes in this story and this is a sample of their legacy:

- 22 years of service and philanthropy
- $10 million in pennies given back to local community needs
- 23,000 student grants
- 45 million service hours

AND Over and Over Again They Respond to Global Issues

*1996: $59,748 to Hurricane Relief in Florida & Starvation in Somalia
*1997: $15,000 in Hurricane Relief
*1999: $15,000 / Hurricane Mitch
*2000: $36,000 / Mozambique Flood
*2001: $40,000 / Earthquake Relief in India
*2002: $56,000 / Youth Relief in Afghanistan
*2003: $67,000 / AIDS Education in The Caribbean
*2004: $67,197 / Victim Assistance and Education
*2005: $62,583 / Humanitarian Aid for Darfur, Sudan
*2006: $78,000 / Hurricane Katrina and Youth in the Gulf Coast
*2007: $30,000 / Global Access to Education
*2008: $6,433 / World Climate Change
*2009: $88,427 / Hunger in NYC
*2010: $36,309 / Earthquake in Japan
*2011: $56,509 / Earthquake in Haiti
*2012: $57,230 / Pennies for the 9/11 Memorial
*2013: $133,334 / Hurricane Sandy

Not to mention close to 1 million raised to support victims after the tragic 9/11 Attacks.

Do the math, digest the service, and then tell me if you think the doors should close on Common Cents and the amazing Penny Harvest!

Oct. 03 2013 11:11 AM
Victoria from Queens

What do parents, taxpayers and students think about this issue? What are the implications for our need to develop citizens with more well-informed minds than in recent decades?

Oct. 03 2013 10:46 AM

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