Fundraising these days is difficult for any school, and even more so for one that has only 35 students. That just provided a challenge for Manhattan mom Meg Akabas. While brainstorming ways to bring in big bucks for her children’s tiny private school, she announced to her fellow parents, “Why don’t I just go on a game show and win some money in one lump sum?”
Amazingly, she did just that. In one of the more unusual fundraising successes around, Akabas won $64,000 as a contestant on ABC-TV’s Who Wants To Be a Millionaire. She plans to give half to Beit Rabban, the 13-year-old New York City Jewish day school from which three of her children have graduated and which her youngest currently attends. She’ll also increase her annual donations to her kids’ other schools, a Jewish middle school and the public Stuyvesant High School. What remains after taxes will be put away for their college educations. Beit Rabban “is so small and unique and needs a little boost; the other schools have more resources,” explains Akabas, 41, a crossword enthusiast who loves to play board games with her family. She works as a consultant to arts organizations, is a classical pianist, and, in her spare time, teaches hip-hop dance.
Beit Rabban, where Akabas is an active member of the Parents Association and a former board president, is an elementary school that integrates Jewish and secular studies. “It’s a special place that offers excellent academics, creatively challenges each child at his or her own level, integrates community service into the curriculum, and most important fosters a love of learning that will benefit students throughout their lives,” Akabas says.
Her children are the ones who encouraged her to try out for the show because when they watched Millionaire together, she would always answer the questions correctly. She applied for an audition in New York and was called in for an 11-minute test and interview. When she found out she was chosen to appear, “I was in shock,” she recalls. With only three weeks to study, “I carried a heavy almanac with me everywhere I went.”
Some of the facts she boned up on were state nicknames, weights and measurements, presidential trivia, chemical symbols, and Greek and Roman gods and goddesses. Of course, she was asked about none of that.
During the taping of the show, her first questions were easy: “In the story of the tortoise and the hare, why does the hare lose the race?” Correct answer: “He falls asleep.”
The questions got progressively more difficult. The $8,000 question was hard for someone who doesn’t have cable TV, she says. “What TV character has an on-again, off-again romance with the handsome Mr. Big?” Correct answer: Carrie Bradshaw (of HBO’s Sex and the City). “While exercising at the gym, I read Entertainment Weekly,” Akabas notes.
For $16,000, she was asked, “What animal did not become a popular pet until it was imported from Mongolia in the 1950s for lab use?” Correct answer: The gerbil. She used a lifeline to answer the $32,000 question: “In the 1991 movie Rudy, Rudy gets to play for Notre Dame in one game against what team?” Her husband, Seth, provided the correct answer: Georgia Tech. For $64,000, she was asked, “What is the only Central American country that does not have a coast on the Caribbean Sea? Correct answer: El Salvador.
But the $125,000 question stumped her: “In 1961, members of two Detroit groups, the Primes and the Distants, merged to form what musical act?” Correct answer: The Temptations. Out of lifelines, Akabas decided to play it safe and leave the show $64,000 richer. “I’m not a risk-taker,” she explains.
She hopes her winnings will encourage other parents to be creative in their fundraising. “I hope this will inspire other parents to think out of the box about ways we can support our schools,” she says. She has since written a fundraising letter “challenging the community to make a million dollars out of the money I won” to help Beit Rabban grow and move to a bigger space. “I’m challenging everyone to be my lifelines to finish what I started.”
She hopes other parents will understand that "whatever they can do is important, whether it’s big or small; it’s contagious.”