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Empty Bowls is a Success

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Joe Martin ’15 Speaks to Empty Bowls Attendees

On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, student volunteers began working on the evening’s event at noon. But their efforts really began back in April, when the first bowls for Empty Bowls 2015 were created.

Malvern – with some help from Conestoga High School, guest artists, and friends – created 940 bowls for Empty Bowls 2015 over six months of preparations which was 4 more than last year’s total of 936.

Students used the time in class and the open studios on the weekends in order to create enough bowls for the event. This was the most bowls ever created in the seven-year history of Empty Bowls at Malvern.

As they arrived at Empty Bowls, around 300 guests chose one bowl to keep as a reminder that there are always “empty bowls” in the world. Guests purchased additional bowls after the soup dinner, guest speakers, and silent auction.

The student chairs of Empty Bowls 2015 were seniors Charlie Arena, Thomas Colaiezzi, Joe Martin, and Jason McLarney.  Liam Wheeler ‘16, Tait McGlinn ‘16, Dom DiStefano ‘17, and Cullen Robinson ‘17 served as chairs-at-large.

“What is so remarkable about this bowl total is that the student chairs did not set a goal of topping last year’s numbers,” said Ms. Kate Plows, faculty advisor for Empty Bowls.  “It was most important to them to make the best quality bowls they could – even if we didn’t end up with quite so many.”

However, the students learned that the quality can be directly proportional to the quantity of bowls that are made.  They were learning more from their mistakes when they made more bowls, rather than trying to make one bowl perfect.

“I’m not sure how they topped both quality and quantity this year.  We were all surprised.” said Plows.

Not a Malvern invention, Empty Bowls is a national organization that has been supporting thousands of events worldwide since 1990. It was founded in 1991 by Lisa Blackburn and John Hartom to raise money for the homeless in their Michigan community.   The national organization requires that funds raised be donated to an organization working to end hunger and food insecurity.

All proceeds from Malvern’s event are donated to Bethesda Project, an organization that works to reaffirm the dignity of our homeless brothers and sisters in Philadelphia. Empty Bowls is an annual event, and an important piece of both our Christian Service and Arts programs.

Over winter break, Joe Martin and Charlie Arena visited the Bethesda Project to learn about the history of it, meet new people, and see how Malvern’s participation in Empty Bowls has had an effect on the organization.

Mr. Tyler Hurley, Bethesda Project’s Director of Community Life, took the initiative to set up transportation for a group of men from the Bethesda Project to come to the Empty Bowls event. Malvern students often meet many of them in their sophomore years while at St. Augustine’s for service.

“One of the greatest things that happened was the men that are living with Bethesda coming out to the event,” said Martin. “It was so inspiring and exciting to be able to look those men in the eyes on the night of the event and know where the money is going to.”

“I hope we can make this an annual tradition.” said Plows.

Joe Martin and Thomas Colaiezzi were asked to make a speech at the event this year.

“I was excited to have a leadership role,” said Martin. “I was also excited about trying to make the event as successful as possible because it was my last one. The biggest thing I was concerned about had to be my speech. I practiced it an insane amount, and I wanted the speech to be powerful and inspiring and show all the work we have been doing.”

In the speech, Martin and Colaiezzi remarked on what Empty Bowls meant to them and what it means to use talents to the benefit of other people:

“We learned very early on the responsibility we have to use a talent we have developed for a greater cause. And that’s exactly what Empty Bowls is here at Malvern: A way for students to use a talent they have developed for a greater good.”

They also discussed what kept them motivated during preparation for the event, and the challenges that came with it.

The preparation for Empty Bowls involved a lot of effort. The student chairs began meeting in early September, and continued meetings nearly every week through January.  Saturday Open Studios began in early November and continued until the week before the event.

Student chairs planned methods used to advertise the event, strategies for encouraging people to attend Open Studios, the collection of silent auction items, and volunteer recruitment.

“Just about every small and large detail of this event was directed by the student chairs,” said Plows.  “It wasn’t always easy – but they pushed through.”

One highlight of preparations was a “bowl-off” against Conestoga High School on Saturday, January 10, to help with a final boost on bowls. The competition was judged on quantity and quality by Ms. Jennifer Martin, a talented potter and vice president of The Clay Studio in Philadelphia.

“Conestoga ended up beating us,” said Plows. “Some of our strongest potters couldn’t participate because of play practice.” The members on Malvern’s bowl-off team included Joe Martin ‘15, Nick Villano ‘18, Dan Hoban ‘15, Liam Wheeler ‘16, Jason McLarney ‘15, and Justice Bennett ‘16.

“Maybe the best part was that the Conestoga students were really inspired to try doing their own Empty Bowls. We hope to support them in the future.” said Plows.

Empty Bowls is a program that inspires people in the school to use their talents towards the benefit of the rest of the community. That inspiration lives on after a student leaves Malvern.

“We couldn’t have done it this year without help from so many alumni,” said Plows. “It’s great to see alum coming back to support the cause at the Open Studios.”

This year, several alumni donated silent auction pieces that they have created since graduating from Malvern.  Mike Stangis ‘14, a Marine Biology major at the University of Miami, had three pieces in the auction. Dan McGlinn ‘14 donated plates that he created in the ceramics studio at University of Notre Dame.  Ryan Wheeler ‘12, who is majoring in Ceramics at Tyler School of Art, donated two bowls to the silent auction and many Open Studio hours to support the cause.

“One of the main things [Empty Bowls] taught me was that when you have a talent, you have an extreme responsibility to give back and use that talent for good,” said Wheeler.

Plows says the funds raised were close to last year’s total, which was an $11,000 donation to the Bethesda Project. However, the exact total cannot be announced just yet. Hopefully, it will be concluded by February 14. Bowls will be on sale in the Campus Store between now and Valentine’s Day.

There were a lot of things that made this event a success and an exciting event. The hard work and dedication of all involved was a huge asset.

“First and foremost I think it begins with guys’ love for ceramics and creating. Without this, there would be no bowls and therefore no event,” said Martin.

“The next thing that makes this a success is the leadership team, the people that worked on this project for months worked out all the little details behind the scenes and made it the great event that it was.”

“Lastly, I think it comes down to the volunteers and the attendees at the event,” he concluded.

“It is exciting to see the culmination of all our hard work.” said Colaiezzi.

About James Canuso

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