What exactly is the 82 Project Foundation trying to do? What is our purpose? Well, we do have a mission statement.
Building and strengthening connections with our Whitefish Bay classmates, and the broader community through fellowship and financial support. But what does that really mean? Here is one person’s reflection on her involvement with our organization that perfectly expresses the type of community we are trying to build, and the type of personally meaningful outcomes we are striving to achieve.
From Rootless to Rooted
School was never my scene. I had moved so many times during my childhood that by the time I was starting ninth grade it was my eighth school. It was 1978 and I started Richard’s school in Whitefish Bay, WI, halfway thru eighth grade. There I was, coming from a Jr. High school in Baltimore, MD, with my Farrah Fawcett haircut, wearing designer jeans and make-up. I recall being oddly optimistic the morning of my first day. I had attended Lydell and Cumberland Schools in the same town years earlier and I thought I would blend in this time.
Quite the opposite; I stood out almost comically. Much to my horror there were kindergarteners attending this school, and the other eighth grade girls all looked alike to me. I had never felt more lost. I did not own a pair of Levi’s or an expensive wool sweater, and my feathered bangs could not possibly fit into a ponytail like they wore. Not to mention that I had a brush in my purse and not a comb in my back pocket. It was a horrible time for me. I raced home from school daily and could not wait for High School to start. I was familiar with changing classes, having a locker, and being amongst older kids.
High School was extremely cliquey, and unfortunately, I did not think I fit into any category. I discovered many years later that I had not been as alone as I felt. It turns out that many are as distraught and uneasy during high school as I was. Even the popular “cool” kids had doubts and were full of insecurity.
Three decades later I was happily married with three children when tragedy hit my family. I openly share and talk about all the trauma we endured but it is irrelevant for the sake of this story. And as I have learned this in the past few years: we all have a story.
I was occasionally on Facebook and a high school classmate sent me a friend request. I was curious about her and her intent and accepted. She texted and inquired about how I was and despite my caution, I told her. Everything. It felt amazingly freeing. I figured my honesty would probably overwhelm her, but I had nothing to lose. I gained more than I could have ever imagined.
A week later I got a text from another former high school classmate. I recalled her as having been friendly to me, but we had never been friends. She invited me to an event happening that very night! I went, albeit apprehensively, and had a fantastic time with a group of people I had never known. I recalled several names, and it was astonishing to me that everyone seemed to know who I was.
As I was leaving, the gal who invited me handed me a card. I could not imagine what the sentiment could possibly be, but I took it and put it in my purse and headed home. The card simply said, “from the 82 Project Foundation” and included a check. I was stunned and considered accepting it. Had they not been the neatest, most down to earth people, I never would have. Our trauma had played havoc with our finances and this gift came with no requests. No strings. It felt safe and not suspicious.
And so, it began; my connection with the individuals of the 82 Project Foundation and my high school class in general. Most had never even “seen” me before yet here they were, encompassing me like a warm blanket in the most non-judgmental way. As I got to know them, I learned of some of their “stories”; many journeys that were as insane and intense as my own. Not everyone wants to share and many I know nothing about, and that is okay. Although I personally am like an open book, others keep their stories deep inside their backpack.
A year later tragedy hit one of my few actual high school friends. I mentioned it and the foundation was there for her, again expecting nothing in return. Another tragic event happened to someone who was not even from the class of 82, but that did not matter. They were right there, by her side.
My husband had emergency open-heart surgery two years ago. I was told to call our children to the hospital, and I sent a panicked text to my friends and family. A few hours later someone showed up at the hospital with a bag full of sandwiches on behalf of the foundation. I was overwhelmed by the support, once again, from this group, from this project.
I never fit in when I was a child. I was like a twig; independent and somehow thriving on my own. As an adult I was blessed to be surrounded by family and friends. I was not looking for more people in my life. I did not think I needed any more. But I have become friends with some amazing people who are all in some way or another connected to this foundation. Fun events are planned and everyone is always welcome, not just the class of 82 or those having gone to Whitefish Bay High School.
The 82 Project Foundation is comprised of caring and compassionate people who want nothing in return from those they help. Men and women who are devoted, nurturing, and passionate about others. Quiet and non-intrusive, they touch far more lives than I am even aware of as their recipients are often anonymous. It is a group with many off-shoots. And like branches of a tree, they come together and form one root when someone is in need.
Michelle Frey Loberg