Paying It Forward By Giving Back

To the thousands of girls who have graduated from The Ellis School, Ellis is so much more than a school. It is a place where lifelong friendships are created, lives are changed,and futures are formed. Ellis’ large, but quietly nestled away, East Liberty campus is where alumnae met their future roommates, travel buddies, partners in crime, and shoulders to cry on. As one particular alumna put it, it’s where she met her “3 a.m. phone call” people.
Alumnae say time and again that, without Ellis, they would not be where they are today. And when they return to campus, they share with faculty and staff that it is Ellis that influenced their intellectual interests, that built the academic and life skills they use daily, and that provided them with friends to lean on.

When alumnae return to the School, their desire to contribute  to Ellis’ mission of preparing, empowering, and inspiring each and every girl is evident. From hosting alumnae events across the country to returning to campus to speak with students,   Ellis women know the importance of supporting their fellow Ellisians and the Ellis girls who follow in their footsteps. This theme, of women supporting each other, was woven throughout a number of events and programs this year.

During Reunion Weekend, Jamie Beth COHEN Schindler  ’93, Dara HALL Mendez ’98, Ginnae HARLEY ’88, Susan HIGINBOTHAM Holcombe ’58, Katerina ISTOMIN ’03, and Kate Schüler-WALSH ’08 participated in a career panel for Upper School students where they spoke about their work, backgrounds, and the importance of celebrating and uplifting women in the workplace. Students pounded on the backs of the pews to show their appreciation for these alumnae—a show of gratitude familiar to the graduates, who were clearly touched. Ginna, who herself had once pounded those very same pews, noted that such an energetic reception fulfilled a lifelong dream. Similarly, in the spring, Marcie WATERMAN Love ’56 returned to Ellis to watch presentations from seniors Payton Ferris and Lauren Jasper, the two students who were awarded her namesake international travel grant and visited Guatemala and South Africaas a result. Marcie’s own passion and commitment to the empowerment of women began at Ellis and her return each year continues to inspire more generations of Ellis students to advance that cause on the global stage.

Alumnae also came back to campus to support Ellis students in the classroom. Heidi HOLZAPFEL ’97, the owner of the Soggy Doggy Shop, a pet grooming salon, returned to teach a year-long series on entrepreneurship for Upper School girls. Heidi shares, “my successful path is not solely mine; mentoring and sharing my experiences is the only way I can be truly successful. Through working with aspiring young entrepreneurs, I hope to be able to help them build their own unique paths to achieving their goals.” And when Divya KRISHNAN ’10 realized there was a lack of workshops teaching negotiation skills to girls and women, she started one of her own and reached out to Ellis to offer her services. In May, Divya led a mini-course session on negotiation for Upper School students.

As graduates reflect on the lessons they learned at Ellis with current students, families, and faculty, they give back to the institution that helped them become who they are today and pay it forward to the next generation. From participating in career panels to offering creative writing advice, alumnae continue to show their love and gratitude for the School by making a commitment to the future of Ellis: its current students.

Dedicated faculty and staff, passionate  alumnae, caring parents, grateful parents of alumnae,  adoring grandparents, and committed board members are integral members of the Elliscommunity. They all care deeply about upholding the School’s values, and illustrated that commitment by supporting the School in a myriad of ways this past year. Whether it was donating an auction item to the Spring Her Forwardfundraiser or hosting an alumnae event across the country, the Ellis community in its many forms came together to support Ellis as it grows happy, healthy, and strong young girls who continue to make a difference in the world.

Ellis parents loudly and proudly demonstrated their dedication to the School in the fall, responding to the Giving Tuesday Participation Challenge with enthusiasm and surpassing their goal of 125 gifts to the Ellis Fund with 141 total gifts. In addition to donating, parents made fundraising phone calls, sent text messages, and encouraged fellow families to give in support of the Ellis Fund. Ellis parent Tamara Butler, daughter Payten, Class of 2030, shared that she donated because of “Ellis’ commitment to fostering the talents and assets of young girls.

In honor of International Women’s Day, the Ellis Parent Association (EPA) banded together to host a memorable evening event, Spring Her Forward, in support of the Ellis Fund. The night highlighted local female artisans and businesses and included a fast draw, where artists complete a work within the time of the event to be sold at the end, by Ellis parent and muralist Sandy Kessler Kaminski.

To join the Ellis community is to gain access to comprehensive supports, life-changing experiences, and transformative relationships that will shape a lifetime. Whether an alumna, retired teacher, or former parent, The Ellis School is always somewhere to return to and feel welcomed.

This was evident this year as alumnae and friends of the School gathered at events across the country where they swapped stories about their time at Ellis and learned more about what’s happening on campus today. New additions including a holiday happy hour the night before Thanksgiving and an art workshop hosted by Visual Arts Teacher Belle Moldovan offered two new opportunities for alumnae to reconnect and reminisce. A common occurrence at these events is for community members to reference the strong connection they still feel toward the School. Further proof that while certain career aspirations, athletic prowess, and hair colors may fade— the words of the alma mater, “Oh Ellis School, Dear Ellis,” never do.

While Ellis makes an impact on every person that passes through its doors, it is the graduates of the School that most noticeably live the values of the institution. They bring the skills and confidence they developed in classrooms, on the field or in the studio, and out and about town on various field trips to whatever roles they play and responsibilities they assume in their families and workplaces long after walking across the Breezeway at Commencement. This is how Ellis changes lives in a meaningful way and has a ripple effect across the broader region.

It is this ripple effect that makes being an active part of The Ellis School so meaningful. Alumnae have noted that when they meet new acquaintances and build their networks beyond the School, a litmus test is whether or not this new person is “like an Ellis girl.” This means that this new friend  is interesting and engaged, empowered and inspiring, and affecting positive change in the world around them. Parents of alumnae often recognize this ripple effect because they see their daughters’ successes throughout their lives long after leaving Ellis and can attribute much of it to their time here.