Five talented storytellers took the stage last night at an event to benefit Common Cents and its popular service-learning program the Penny Harvest.
The event, called “Learning Curves: Stories of an Unconventional Education,” was curated by the Moth, a storytelling organization that works with ordinary people to bring their experiences to life. The Wall Street Journal has called The Moth "New York's hottest and hippest literary ticket." The evening’s storytellers included Kyle MacLachlan, stage and screen actor; Colum McCann, winner of the National Book Award and father of a Penny Harvest student; Adam Gopnik, staff writer for The New Yorker; Pallavi Pandya Shastri, Penny Harvest teacher; and Gabriella Camacho, a seventh grade Penny Harvest student.
Almost 300 friends and benefactors of Common Cents filled the cozy restaurant, City Winery, which was specially decorated for the occasion, to listen to the stories, sip wine, and participate in a silent auction. Chocolate pennies covered the tables, and shiny copper pennies shimmered in glass vases.
The stories of the night highlighted life-long lessons, many of which were learned in the service of others. “Giving is the sole purpose of human life,” said Shastri, who has been a Penny Harvest teacher at Harry T. Stewart School in Queens for the last four years. “If it wasn’t, we would take something when we die,” she told the audience. “But we don’t. We leave everything.”
Camacho, a charismatic and vivacious student at I.S. 528, a Penny Harvest school, stole the show with her story about suffering a serious illness, then meeting the Pope with the help of a Make a Wish grant. The help she received from strangers has inspired her to do the same for other children in need. She regularly donates to St. Jude Children’s Hospital, and volunteers around the community, including at Common Cents.
The Penny Harvest fosters these lessons and values early in life, allowing children to be philanthropists. Our students research issues, reach out to community organizations, and make grants. Since the beginning of the Penny Harvest in 1991, children have made more than 16,114 grants to community organizations totaling $8.1 million— the result of a program that begins with simply collecting a penny.
“The Penny Harvest develops character for our children,” said Tristan Wright, the Penny Harvest coach who works with Camacho. “We need to teach our students how to care and how to be powerful.”
McCann agreed. “I love the Penny Harvest,” he said. “It’s part and parcel of our democracy. Every penny has a vote.”
Actor Kyle MacLachlan, who is best known for his roles on hit TV shows Sex and the City and Desperate Housewives said, “Tonight’s benefit was truly an inspirational evening. I am delighted to be here on behalf of Cole Haan, to support Common Cents, a non-profit organization that fosters community, children, and a love of learning.” The evening was made possible by the support of Common Cents sponsors Cole Haan, Citi, Kingdon, Capital Management and Nickelodeon.
Actor Kyle MacLachlan tells a story on stage at City Winery
Gabriella Camacho tells a story on stage at City Winery
Adam Gopnik, staff writer for The New Yorker chats with other guests
The Common Cents Board of Directors
Guests at the event
Penny Harvest coach Pallavi Pandya Shastri tells a story on stage at City Winery
Teddy Gross, Executive Director of Common Cents; Kyle MacLachlan and Dave Mctague, CEO of Cole Haan
The evening's storytellers pose for a picture with Teddy Gross, executive director.
From left: Colum McCann, Teddy Gross, Pallavi Pandya Shastri, Adam Gopnik, Gabriella Camacho, Kyle MacLachlan and Tom Shillue
- Photos by Denise Ofelia Mangen