By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Reporter
KANSAS CITY — BonFIRE is the annual dinner and auction that raises money to enable the Foundation for Inclusive Religious Education to provide children with special needs the opportunity to attend their home parish school with their peers. For several years, the event was held at a ranch in Lee’s Summit, then the venue was changed to Archbishop O’Hara High School.
Earlier this year, Becky Conaghan, then executive director of F.I.R.E., made the decision to hold BonFIRE at a more central location. The Westin Crown Center was chosen and more than 450 people in cowboy hats and boots attended the night of Oct. 15. Katie Duffy, F.I.R.E. event coordinator, said the convenience and setup and teardown services provided by the Westin allowed for increased attendance, and kept F.I.R.E.’s volunteers from exhaustion.
The Foundation for Inclusive Religious Education, known as F.I.R.E., was founded in 1996 by a group of parents who shared a dream — they wanted their children with special needs to be able to attend their parish schools with their brothers, sisters and friends.
Over the ensuing years, the foundation has raised millions of dollars to keep the dream of F.I.R.E. going. The money raised funds grants for qualifying schools in the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph to provide salaries for paraprofessionals and technical equipment to help the students.
This past spring, the first three students with special needs to enroll at St. Peter and Visitation schools as kindergartners in 1997 graduated from O’Hara High School.
In the current academic year, 49 students with diverse special needs benefit from the help and support of paraprofessionals at St. Peter, Visitation, St. Elizabeth, Nativity of Mary, St. Therese of Parkville and St. Thomas More grade schools, St. Mary and O’Hara high schools. In addition, more than 250 students in those schools with learning disabilities benefit from the special education resource rooms and paraprofessionals.
And the icing on the cake is the support and friendships throughout the schools.
BonFIRE events have both silent and live auctions. This year, the live auction items were packages, including It’s All About Her, … Him, … Sports, … the Home, and more. Silent auction items were listed under such categories as Drinks and Grub, Pampering Pardners, Cowpokes and Critters, and High Ridin’, a super silent auction of items such as a handmade dollhouse, a one year membership to Bikram Yoga, dinners, wines and a tuition voucher to O’Hara High School.
Amy Taylor, F.I.R.E. office administrator, said that of 175 silent and super silent auction items, only four remained unbid on. At the evening’s end, BonFIRE had grossed $162,000.
F.I.R.E. founding parent and now executive director Maura Nulton, said the funds raised would, as in years past, fund grants to help the schools pay the salaries of paraprofessionals. The board was also looking into the possibility of purchasing iPads with applications for special needs students to use in the classrooms.
She said that FIRE is a constant work in progress and continues to evolve. With creative administrators who schedule classes and move paraprofessionals around the schools to benefit the most students to supportive volunteers and a dedicated Board of Directors who works to be creative with funds, again to benefit the most students, opportunities are provided for students with special needs who otherwise wouldn’t be able to attend their parish schools.