When tragedy strikes, it’s not uncommon for adults to rally around the victim and extended family; it’s expected, really. But when the victim of a tragic event is a teenager, it’s unclear how his or her peers will respond. Fear, inexperience, and immaturity can prevent teens from showing their support. That has not been the case since Roland Park resident and rising McDonogh junior Archer Senft suffered a life-changing spinal cord injury last summer.
Since hearing the news of Archer’s accident, his classmates have demonstrated unwavering support in multiple, teen-savvy ways. They’ve sold wristbands and t-shirts and put forth their best artistic efforts in an art show-slash-fundraiser. A few even shaved their heads. To date, Archer’s fellow students at McDonogh have raised several thousands of dollars for the Archer Senft Special Needs Trust Fund, set up to help defray medical expenses associated with Archer’s recovery, and delivered untold sums of solace to Archer and his family.
“McDonogh has been, and is, Archer Strong. The heart that beats and keeps everything alive comes from the students. From the primary grades through the upper school, the McDonogh students define Archer’s Army and they remain engaged and strong. They are each an inspiration to Archer. Their goodness is almost too much to take in,” said Louise Phipps Senft, Archer’s mother.
It’s been almost six months to the date since Archer took a dip in the Cape May surf, unknowingly diving into a sandbar. Archer broke the C5 vertebra in his neck and became paralyzed from the top of his chest downward. His long and arduous recovery has been marked by the teenager’s incredible resiliency. As if echoing Archer’s resolve, his classmates’ gestures of concern—at times spontaneous and creative, always heartfelt—demonstrate maturity and fearlessness in the face of adversity.
Entrepreneurial, student-driven efforts
McDonogh junior Maggie Zimmer says she spent a good deal of time immediately after Archer’s injury thinking of something she could do to help. She came up with the idea of designing and selling wristbands in black and orange (McDonogh’s school colors) that read, “We are #ARCHERSTRONG” and “Archer’s Army.”
Initially, Maggie kept the wristbands with her during school to sell to classmates at will. Then the class dean and school secretary started helping with overflow. Eventually, the wristbands made their way to McDonogh’s lower and middle schools. She also sold them at a lacrosse tournament held at McDonogh, as well as the hundredth McDonogh–Gilman Football game. In all, the wristbands have raised about $1,000 for Archer’s medical needs.
While Maggie Zimmer was moping around her house in the summer wondering how she could help Archer, so too were many other McDonogh students, including senior Jackson Morrill. It didn’t take him long to focus on a targeted fundraising project.
“Once Mrs. Senft described the financial challenges that the road to recovery would bring, I figured starting something like t-shirts that could actually raise money along with support would be great,” Jackson said. He was right.
Jackson enlisted support from family, friends, and a local business to make his grassroots effort a success. He received design assistance for the t-shirts from classmate Dylan Orrell, and emblazoned the back of the t-shirts with one of Archer’s signature graffiti drawings. (A talented artist, Archer’s range of work includes graffiti drawings, illustrations and paintings.) Jackson credits Maryland Screen Printers with “cleaning up” the t-shirt design and printing the shirts for a fraction of their normal price. Then Jackson, his mother, and some friends from other local schools delivered t-shirts to buyers.
“Although there were some errors and frustrations along the way, the delivery was largely successful…I had to remind people that I am simply a high school senior trying to support Archer,” said Jackson, who sold over 1,000 t-shirts and raised more than $15,000.
There were straightforward student-driven entrepreneurial fundraising efforts on behalf of Archer, and there were sillier ones. McDonogh student Barrett Sutley proposed to classmate Jeffers Insley that they vow to shave their heads if students donated $1,000 toward the Archer Senft Special Needs Trust Fund. In just two days, they collected over $3,000—and kept their promise.
“I was nervous about getting my head shaved on [the school] stage. I was pretty sure that I wouldn’t look so good with a buzz cut, but a deal is a deal. I saw Archer in Atlanta a couple weeks after getting my head shaved, and he thought I looked ridiculous,” Jeffers said.
Art show for Archer
Camille Gustus, who has taught Archer since he was a freshman at McDonogh, also wanted to do something special on behalf of her beloved art student. “I wanted to show how much we miss him, and how inspiring he is,” said Gustus, department chair of Upper School Visual Art at McDonogh.
Standing in the midst of an art exhibit containing 100-plus pieces of student art work for sale starting at $50, Gustus reflects on a student whom she knew was extraordinary from the time he was just 14 years old. “He’s one of our keepers, I told myself when I first saw his art work as a freshman,” said Gustus, referring to Archer. “Conceptually, he’s very mature. And his observational skills are paramount.”
While the school typically has an art show each year and donates 50 percent of the proceeds to a local charity, this year Gustus decided that 100 percent of the show’s proceeds would be donated to the Archer Senft Special Needs Trust Fund. In addition to artwork completed by McDonogh Upper School students this year, the art show also features limited edition copies of several of Archer’s pieces, as well as postcard booklets of his work, titled Archer Senft Postcard Collection, available for $20. The final public exhibition of the art show occurs today, Thursday, February 4, 2016, from 3:30p.m.–6:30p.m. in McDonogh’s Edward St. John Student Center.
Just like the rest of the McDonogh School community, Gustus is committed to supporting Archer, his recovery and, she believes, his eventual return to art. “I want him not to give up. He’s got a whole school cheering him on,” she said.
Several community-wide fundraisers have been held on behalf of Archer Senft and his family. The next one, Cafe 7611: Music for Archer, will take place at 6:30p.m. on February 6, 2016 at L’Hirondelle Club of Ruxton, 7611 L’Hirondelle Club Road, Ruxton, MD 21204. For details, click here.
Donations to the Archer Senft Special Needs Trust Fund can be made by clicking here.
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