SUMMIT — Many New Jersey municipalities and school districts have things like booster clubs to facilitate fundraisers for their arts programs. But in this city, a long-running nonprofit organization devoted to that purpose continues to find new ways to bring in the bucks.

SPARC, the Summit Performing Arts Resource Committee, was founded in 1996 by teachers who sought to supplement the work they were doing in school with resources and advocacy. Eventually the organization began to involve parents more and more, and was eventually incorporated as a nonprofit.

The group's mission is to promote the performing arts, recognize student achievement, enrich and enhance districtwide programs, and support educational initiatives — monetarily if possible. Gloria Ron-Fornes, SPARC president, said these goals take the focus off of just student actors, and encompass technical theater, the speech and debate team, the STEP dance team, and drama clubs at the middle and high school levels.

For the 2017-2018 school year, SPARC honored nearly 800 student participants with certificates to show their involvement in the district's many arts opportunities.

Despite those high numbers, or perhaps because of them, fundraising remains key. SPARC typically stages two major annual fundraisers, including a pancake breakfast, and this past year added a murder mystery to that roster. But an alumni concert and gala has been shelved, in favor of a new event for the fall: SPARCtoberfest.

Scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 20 at 7:30 p.m. at the Grand Summit Hotel, SPARCtoberfest will feature traditional German food and music, plus an open bar, but Ron-Fornes said it will generally be more low-key than the concert had been.

"We said, 'What if it's just a party? Let's not make it very elegant so people don't have to go out and buy new clothes,'" she said. "The gala atmosphere was the one that people were getting turned off to."

A silent auction will be one of the evening's supplemental fundraising components, and Ron-Fornes said a "Jeopardy!"-like board will allow attendees to direct donations to specific areas of the district's performing arts program.

"To give the opportunity to people to not have the pressure of saying, 'Well, I've got to donate, or I've got to do this,' but, 'Hey, I'm interested in that, I want to support that piece of the cause,'" she said.

Ron-Fornes said the hope is that SPARCtoberfest will not only pique interest in the arts in Summit, but also maybe give other New Jersey school districts the inspiration to plan similar events to help keep arts education alive and well.

For more, visit sparcsummit.org.

Patrick Lavery is Senior Producer of Morning News and Special Programming for New Jersey 101.5, and is lead reporter and substitute anchor for "New Jersey's First News." He tried being a techie in college, but found he is much more comfortable on stage than backstage. Follow him on Twitter @plavery1015 or email patrick.lavery@townsquaremedia.com.

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