Kids actually stopped in the halls of Secaucus High School when Randy Moore and his band members arrived on Oct. 19. The Nashville-based musicians didn't have to tell anybody they had just come from a gig in Red Bank, N.J., where they had played with such superstars at Bruce Springsteen. These men looked like stars - dressed in dark clothing, their sharp steps echoing down the corridors ahead of them.
Moore and his entourage were not superstars in Nashville, yet played so often at the Opryland Hotel - often listed as one of the must-see places for anyone taking a tour of The South - that people came to think of his crew as the house band there.
The band had stopped off in Secaucus to play a small concert for the kids in the high school before moving on to Madison Square Garden, where they were scheduled to play with The Who, Mick Jaeger, Eric Clapton, Paul McCartney and others for the fire, police, EMTs and others associated with the World Trade Center disaster.
Moore had come to Secaucus to thank the students here for a benefit Secaucus held last Spring for Nashville special needs kids - which raised $5,000.
Although Moore had never been to Secaucus High School, many of the students recognized him from a video the school produced in June, which highlighted the charity effort and the response from the special needs school in Nashville. In fact, a song called "Refuge in the Storm," written by Moore and performed by Secaucus High School student Lindsayanne Collazo, has become an unofficial anthem of the class. The video was broadcast throughout the school district last June on channel 34, the school's television channel.
A teacher connected Nashville with Secaucus
The story of how Secaucus hooked up with Moore is nearly as interesting as the fund-raising effort.
Mathematics teacher Virginia Foley - in her guise as a public relations agent for several country musicians - made a pilgrimage to Nashville last February, and during this trip had the opportunity to catch Moore's act at the Opryland Hotel, where a section of Beale Street, Memphis is replicated.
One of Foley's fellow teachers in Secaucus was undergoing treatment for cancer, and Foley wanted to do something to cheer up the stricken teacher. She was so taken with Moore's performance, she requested him to perform "American Pie," which she taped to send back to her friend in Secaucus. Moore e-mailed Foley a week later to ask if the teacher had liked the song.
"I was a total stranger and he went out of his way," Foley said.
She and Moore became friends, and she made a point to look him up during each of her subsequent trips to Nashville. In November, 2000 - during one of Foley's trips south - Moore invited her to his home for lunch with the band.
It was then that she learned about the Easter Egg Hunt that he and his wife, Cindy, put on every year, opening up their hose on Easter Sunday to friends and strangers to help raise money for "First Steps, Duncanwood School," a Nashville school for children with special needs.
First Steps is a private, non-profit organization for the education and development of children from birth to five years of age, providing early intervention, programming and educational services for children with developmental delays, who are medically fragile or are atypically developing.
Moore said he lived two doors down from the school. The kids from First Steps often came to his place to trick-or-treat on Halloween.
"They never understood how much pleasure they gave me," he said. "At play time I would sometimes come out onto my porch with my coffee and watch them."
He said he enjoyed their spirit and their laughter. And it was his idea to set up an Easter egg hunt on his property.
"I have five acres, I figured I had plenty of room," he said.
The Easter egg hunt had three age groups, "the little bitsy ones," the teenagers, and the adults.
"Hunt is the wrong word because they weren't hard to find," he said. "It was as if we had put out the eggs with a crop duster. There must have been 4,000 eggs."
The egg hunt, however, rarely raised a lot of money.
In fact, Moore's original egg hunt had netted merely $175. Foley thought the students in Secaucus could help do better. In fact, the high school took on a yearly charity project.
"I brought it back to my students and explained about the hunt, and they said `Let's do it,'" she said.
Although the students asked for donations the way they had for charities in the past, they were motivated more than usual by having heard Foley's tales of the East egg hunt and the school. One student, Danielle Bonito, raised $500. Combined, the students raised $4,600 - more than the school had for any previous charity effort. Local merchants also helped raise money through a charity raffle. Susan Piero, a local jeweler, donated several pieces that helped boost the total amount sent south.
"What a tremendous surprise and blessing it was to receive their contribution and to learn that students from so far away took the time to help the children of First Steps," said Leah Smith of First Steps, in an e-mail interview. "What an inspiration this group has been to our staff, volunteers and board. The efforts of the Secaucus students touched the hearts and lives of the children and families of First Steps in a very special way."
The video project
Because the Secaucus students couldn't travel south to witness Moore giving the $5,000 check to Smith, Moore videotaped the event. Unknown to anybody outside the school's staff, First Needs was in pressing need of cash and needed just about $5,000 to meet this year's operating budget.
"I didn't know it until I walked in there with the check that it was the amount they needed," Moore said. "It was God working through us."
Moore called this a piece of God's work.
As a sign of their affection, the students from the Nashville school sent small gifts north to the students of Secaucus, small handcrafted items they made while at the school.
Students in Secaucus decided to make a video tape to tell the story about the effort and the closer relationship between the two schools.
Anh-Thu Ngo, who was one of several students who worked on the video, said she had wanted something to show how Secaucus students felt.
Long before the World Trade Center disaster helped inspire the country's sense of charity, Secaucus students had been turned on by a distant need.
"We tried to show in the video how strongly we felt," Ngo said.
Taping took three of our days. Ngo and Roland Tsar edited it into shape before sending a copy south.
Tsar was the technical guy behind the operations. Ngo was the face people saw on the screen.
Ngo said Foley brought the idea of the fundraisers as well as the later video
"We wanted to help," Ngo said. "Later when the kids at First Steps sent tokens of appreciation, many of the kids were very touched. [They sent] cards and letters, even a large butterfly."
Moore contributed to the video by allowing a student to use one of his as yet unpublished songs.
It was a special song, and the moment Lindsayanne Collazo, who sang on the video, had originally heard it, she said she "gravitated to it." She asked Moore if she could dedicate it to her mother.
"My mother and I are close, and the first time I heard the song it spoke to me," she said during an interview before Moore's appearance at the high school on Oct. 19. It was as if the words had been written especially to send a message to her mother, and she found performing it a great experience.
Collazo also asked if she could perform it during the annual National Honor Society Induction ceremony, where a plague from Moore to the Secaucus students was to be unveiled.
Collazo said Foley liked the song and the way she performed it, even encouraging her to sing if before the class.
"Mom heard it, and it touched her," she said.
Moore said he is a songwriter. He composes the music, working with a former English teacher who does the lyrics.
He remembered working with his partner one night when a piece of paper fell on the floor. He asked what it was. She said it was a note.
"I took a look at it, then shook my head, and said: 'You're wrong, it's a song," Moore said. "And it was a good song."