LIVINGSTON, NJ — In order to fulfill her Bat Mitzvah requirements, Rayna Stern, a Heritage Middle School seventh grader, is looking to the community for support in her unique “Jail and Bail” Mitzvah Project.

During an event to be held on Saturday, Sept. 14 from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. at the Livingston Senior and Community Center, a panel of 12 year olds will serve as judges in a mock courthouse to decide the fates of those who have been “arrested” as part of the fundraiser. Stern is currently encouraging community members to get involved by purchasing a warrant to have a friend, family member, co-worker or otherwise arrested for $20 per warrant with all proceeds benefitting Orange Ribbons for Jaime.

Jaime Guttenberg was 14 years old when she became one of the 17 victims of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Fla. on Feb. 14, 2018. When Stern, who has a personal connection to the Guttenberg family, read about “Jail and Bail” fundraisers, she immediately decided this would be a fun way for her to raise money in support of the cause.

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Stern's father, Robert, explained that he attended high school with Jaime Gutterman’s father, Fred, in Long Island and watched the events of the shooting unfold through Facebook. He read Fred's posts about not knowing whether his two children were safe and later discovered that his friend’s son survived, but Jaime did not.

In addition to her father's connection to the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas shooting, the 12 year old also feels strongly about the emotional impact that mass shootings at schools, houses of worship shootings and elsewhere have had on her generation.

“School’s supposed to be a safe environment where students are educated and have fun,” she said as she recalled what it was like to watch Parkland students and teachers telling their survival stories on television. “Parents worry about their children when they are in school.”

Stern also noted that students have more evacuation and lockdown practices now due to the increased quantity of shootings across the country.

“We used to have a lockdown practice every month or so; now we have those and evacuation drills two or three times a month,” she said. “The shorter ones are only five minutes, but when they last 10 minutes, we start wondering if something is really happening.”

Although she has the utmost confidence that her teachers would know exactly what to do in the event of an emergency, Stern remains concerned about many of her peers who are always anxious about the possibility of a shooting. In fact, she said one of the reasons students are required to leave their phones in their lockers is to prevent the risk of them going off while students are hiding. It's rules like this make her generation the first to constantly worry about a mass shooting while sitting in class, she explained. 

Stern also feels that there have been so many tragedies in recent years that people are becoming accustomed to it and forgetting that “it’s not just another shooting.”

“Each time, innocent people are killed and are gone forever,” said Stern, who intends to continue hosting the Bail and Jail fundraiser annually along with her father.

According to website for Orange Ribbons for Jaime, which contributes funds to Jaime’s favorite causes in her memory, Jaime's father has devoted a great deal of time to lobbying for “common sense gun safety reforms” in an effort to prevent future mass shootings and loss of lives.

This year’s benefactors of Orange Ribbons for Jaime include: Jacob’s Pillow, a dance school in Massachusetts’ Berkshires; Paley Institute, orthopedic and spine specialists who specialize in amputee reconstruction; and Broward County Humane Society in Fort Lauderdale.

According to the website, future donations will go toward anti-bullying campaigns and special needs children, which were also among Jaime’s favorite causes. In addition, the way in which Jaime died will be addressed by supporting anti-gun violence organizations.

Warrants to support Stern’s project can be purchased HERE prior to the event, with all proceeds benefitting Orange Ribbons for Jaime.

Each arrested person will “go through the system,” including posing for a mug shot and being locked in a holding cell with nothing but bread and water. They will then pay their own bail or phone someone else for bail money.

Arrested or not, all attendees will be invited to pose for mug shots individually or with friends/family for $5 per photo. Monetary donations will also be accepted from those who cannot attend the event. According to Stern, every dollar makes a difference.

Stern has already secured donations from Anthony Francos Pizza; Turano’s Pizza Kitchen; Eppes Essen; ShopRite; Home Depot, which is providing the holding cell; and Board & Brush, which is creating the mug shot signs.

The teen promises lots of food, laughs and arts and crafts, but still needs a few more warrants as well as sponsors for a “Step and Repeat” banner for photos, insurance for the event, T-shirts for volunteers and supplies such as orange ribbons.

Noting that a second concept of the fundraiser is “kids helping kids,” Stern thanked all of the student volunteers who will be helping her run the event.