By Jack Smith
Catholic Key Editor
KANSAS CITY — The Strategic Plan for Catholic Schools, approved by Bishop Robert Finn in the Fall, set out strategies to ensure diocesan schools were distinctly Catholic, academically excellent, fiscally stable and affordable. A key strategy toward achieving fiscal stability and affordability was the plan’s call for the creation of a fund to broaden community, corporate and philanthropic support for the diocese’ seven preschool, 27 elementary and four high school programs.
Until last Thursday, the fund did not have a name. But with the help junior and high school students, a name was found and the Bright Futures Fund was unveiled at a reception with school and community leaders at the new downtown Catholic Center Jan. 27.
More than 150 junior high and high school students entered suggestions in the fund-naming contest with the winning entry submitted by St. John LaLande seventh-grader Austin Alawait. Kerry Essman, executive director of the fund, said Alawait’s entry won because Bright Futures “conveys exactly what we want for our children.”
Bishop Finn presented Alawait a $100 check for his winning entry.
Student participation in the new fund didn’t end there though. The fund will have four junior board members selected from the diocesan high schools. Catholic Schools Superintendent Dr. Dan Peters introduced the initial junior board members: Maggie Carmichael from St. Pius X, Molly Fitzpatrick from Bishop LeBlond, Kathleen Schmitt from St. Mary’s and Sarah Rupp from Archbishop O’Hara.
Even before the fund was named, junior board members were on the job. Each year they will spearhead a student led fundraising effort among the Catholic schools. Already this year, they sponsored a “Jean’s Day” where students donated a dollar to wear jeans instead of a school uniform.
The junior board presented Bishop Finn with a $5,000 check representing the proceeds of their first fundraising event. Receiving the check, Bishop Finn thanked them and declared, “This donation makes the students of our schools the founding donors to Bright Futures Fund.”
Vice-Chancellor for Stewardship and Development Paula Moss said the new fund is part of a group of strategies “to ensure our school system will endure well into the future.” Moss said the endurance of Catholic Schools is important to the entire community. Students from Catholic Schools are not only the future leaders of the Catholic faith, but of “Kansas City businesses and neighborhood communities,” she said. “We are here to recognize the 173 years our Diocese has provided children with a faith-filled, values driven education.”
Moss said that during the strategic planning process, “we came to the conclusion that in order for the diocesan school system to not just survive, but to grow, we need to rethink how to support our school families and school parishes.”
Alongside creation of the Bright Futures Fund, the Strategic Plan called for increased involvement from parishes without schools and the creation of a customized adjusted tuition model, Moss explained.
Moss introduced the Fund’s Executive Director Kerry Essman. Essman is herself the beneficiary of Catholic schools. She is a graduate of St. John LaLande and her two daughters are students there now. Essman teared-up when she recalled the commitment of her parents, “Tom and Maryanne Ries, who sacrificed to send my siblings and me – all seven of us – to Catholic schools.
“The mission of Bright Futures Fund is to make Catholic education in our Diocesan schools affordable to all,” she said.
Programs will be added to the Bright Future Fund over time, Essman explained, but it currently includes two major initiatives.
The first is the existing Central City School Fund. It has been renamed the Strong City School Fund and will continue to provide needs-based tuition grants to families living in Kansas City’s urban core. In addition, the Strong City School fund will continue its predecessor’s provision of operating grants for Our Lady of the Angels, Our Lady of Guadalupe and Holy Cross Catholic schools. Since its inception, the Central City School Fund has collected more than $23 million on behalf of urban core schools.
The second initiative under the Bright Futures Fund is new and will be called “Honoring Family Scholarships”.
The Honoring Family Scholarships will allow families with a student enrolled in a Diocesan High School and at least one other student in a diocesan school to access a scholarship. “This program recognizes the sacrifices our families make to send their children to our Catholic Schools,” Essman said.
Eventually, Essman explained, “our goal is to start a fund that will assist any family attending any school in the Diocese with tuition assistance.”
Bishop Finn said that Kansas City-St. Joseph Catholic schools have academically out-performed public school systems while “operating on a financially tight but efficient budget.”
But, Bishop Finn said, “The time has come to broaden our financial support.” He said the “formative education” Catholic schools provide impacts the entire Kansas City community. Catholic schools anchor neighborhoods and keep them alive, reduce the tax burden and provide countless hours of community service.
“Kansas City has reaped the benefits of Catholic education many times over,” Bishop Finn said. He hoped that the communication of the impact Catholic schools have on the entire community would help the Bright Futures Fund “form lasting corporate partnerships, build solid relationships with philanthropic organizations and appeal to a wider donor audience.”
In final remarks to those assembled at the reception, Bishop Finn said, “As business and civic leaders, alumni, philanthropic organizations and individual donors, your support of Bright Futures Fund promises to make a difference – in the life of a child, a community, a city.”
Visit http://mycatholicschools.org/education-fund for more information or to contribute to the Bright Futures Fund.