The giving spirit of an Archmere Academy student who died tragically two years ago was recalled recently when a foundation established in his name distributed funds to local schools to support the performing arts.
Anthony Penna, 17, died Oct. 3, 2017, from injuries he suffered in a car accident on Sept. 29 of that year. All of his viable organs were donated to others through the Gift of Life Program, as Anthony had wished. His sister, Gabby, was injured but returned to school shortly thereafter. She is now a senior.
His family established the Anthony Penna Charitable Fund, and in mid-September, funds were awarded to All Saints Catholic School, Archmere, St. Edmond’s Academy and St. Elizabeth School. A local troupe, Shoestring Productions, also received funding.
At All Saints, the money will be used to expand the school’s partnership with Dancing Classrooms Philly from fifth to eighth grade. The mission of Dancing Classrooms Philly “is to foster self-esteem, social awareness and joy in children by providing the opportunity to learn and perform ballroom dance,” according to its website.
The principal of All Saints, Mary Elizabeth Muir, said the gift will allow the school to provide a resident artist from Dancing Classrooms Philly.
“We are profoundly grateful to the Anthony Penna Charitable Fund for its generosity,” Muir said.
At St. Edmond’s, Anthony’s alma mater, the charitable fund is providing additional money for its Halloween play and a new fourth-grade Christmas musical.
Deborah DeHart, the music instructor and choral director at St. Edmond’s, said the funding will allow the school to expand the production of the original Halloween play from nine to 20 students, and to raise the production values.
“This year’s offering is about students at Magehall (a school at young wizards) and the competition to be the sorcerer’s apprentice,” DeHart said.
The Christmas musical will include all fourth-graders and will be called “The Greatest Snowman.” It is about an unlikely replacement for Santa, whose loving heart made him the perfect candidate for the job.
“Funding from the Penna Charitable Fund made this new offering possible,” she said.
DeHart is also general manager of Shoestring Productions. They will be working with St. Edmond’s to offer “Imagination Station,” a class for sixth- through eighth-graders in New Castle County to work on writing for the stage. Applications are available at www.brandywineshoestringproductions.com.
Katherine Ball-Weir, the director of institutional advancement at Archmere, said the fund will help make the school band’s seventh annual service trip to Belmont Academy in Jamaica a reality. The Archmere students will teach their counterparts music as well as make international connections, and the school hopes to establish a permanent band program at Belmont.
“We have about 18 of our band students signed up for the trip, and we are really grateful to have the support of the Anthony Penna Charitable Fund this year to help make it happen,” Ball-Weir said.
Anthony Penna was involved in the performing arts at both St. Edmond’s and Archmere. He was also a cantor and choir member at his parish, St. Joseph on the Brandywine in Greenville.
The award to St. Elizabeth will help cover the costs of the rights and materials, as well as enhancing the sets, lights and costumes, for the lower school musical. It is the second musical at St. Elizabeth for students in grades 1-6.
“This will allow us to take our performance to a whole new level,” said Jeffrey Dietzler, St. Elizabeth’s director of performing arts. “These students will not only grow in their acting, singing and dancing, but in their communication and collaboration skills, and most importantly, in their confidence.”
The musical is scheduled for late February.
The Penna family has chosen to make each September a month of giving rather than grieving and will announce its grants each year during the month, according to his mother, Mel.
“What a fitting way to celebrate the life of a young man who loved his family, friends and community,” she said.