By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Reporter
KANSAS CITY — Waaay back in 1989, the Central City School Fund offered its first need-based scholarships to families of students in need at several diocesan Catholic schools. The scholarships paid part of the schools’ tuition which enabled those families to afford the remainder of the tuition and provide their kids with a Catholic education and hopes for a brighter future.
Since then, the partnership of civic, philanthropic and Catholic communities have helped more than 30,000 children attend Catholic schools through need-based scholarships totaling more than $23 million to inner city Catholic schools.
Today, 26 years later, those children and their families continue to benefit from the scholarships — their kids have gone on to high school, many to college and some are now starting their own families. For several years the fund was known as the Strong City School Fund and provided need-based scholarship to students at three urban core schools, Our Lady of Guadalupe, Our Lady of the Angels and Holy Cross. Now called simply the Bright Futures Fund, the needs-based tuition assistance continues to be provided to families at those schools and at the three diocesan high schools.
Jeremy Lillig, CJSA, who was hired in 2012, soon stepped up as Managing Director of the Bright Futures Fund. Under his leadership, the Fund’s programs have increased and expanded. In 2014 more than 750 scholarships were awarded through all Bright Future Fund programs. The three grade schools’ tuition was subsidized by $1, 086,800 in need’s based scholarships; tuition at the three diocesan high schools was offset by $77,250 from the Honoring Family Scholarships.
The Honoring Family Scholarship benefits families with two or more children in diocesan elementary and Bishop LeBlond, St. Pius X and Archbishop O’Hara high schools. Through several partnerships and scholarship programs, the Hurtado Scholars, eighth graders at Holy Cross and Our Lady of the Angels schools, are tutored by students of Rockhurst High School and upon graduation are given the opportunity to receive a scholarship to Rockhurst; the St. Joseph Emergency Assistance Fund, funded by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, helps families in crisis financially (in 2014, 200 students benefitted); the Richard and Olivia Mock Scholarship Program benefits students graduating from Bright Futures Fund schools and attending St. Teresa’s, Notre Dame de Sion, and other independent Catholic high schools. Currently, 33 students are receiving Mock Family scholarships. Lillig said that across the board, the students receiving Honoring Family and Mock Family scholarships maintain a 3.3 grade point average.
Lillig has also obtained funding to assist with capital improvement projects and building maintenance for the grade schools as well as textbook purchases.
Eighty eight percent of the children in Bright Futures Fund schools receive free or reduced meals at school. The families are 86 percent Catholic, 24 percent of the students have special needs and 43 percent are English language learners. Despite poverty and other barriers to learning, the average daily attendance at the three grade schools is 96 percent.
All Kansas City-St. Joseph diocesan elementary and secondary schools are accredited by both the Missouri Chapter of The National Federation of Non-Public School State Accrediting Association and AdvancED (a function of the North Central Association Commission on Accrediting and School Improvement –the premier accreditation system of both public and private schools). This diocesan district is one of only 30 such districts in the county to receive full accreditation from AdvancED, and the schools of the Bright Futures Fund received a commendation for diocesan-wide commitment to educating all students.
The Bright Futures Fund schools are faith-based, student centered and parents become partners in their child’s educational journey through active participation in school activities and parent-teacher conferences. They also are held accountable, pay a portion of their child’s tuition, participate in fundraising efforts and volunteer for the school.
In September 2014, the Bright Futures Fund became an independent 501 (c)(3) public charity which will enable it to look into new funding opportunities and to expand to schools outside the inner Kansas City area. Bright Futures recently added three schools to the fund — St. John Francis Regis in Kansas City, St. Mary in Nevada and St. Mary in Montrose. Students at those schools will begin to receive need-based tuition assistance in 2016. Lillig said, “The footprint of poverty now reaches outside the urban core, it’s everywhere. Rural families are facing their own financial challenges. For some time we have wanted to also reach out to the rural schools and schools outside the urban core.”
The Bright Futures Fund is subsidized by the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, urban core parishes and school fundraising efforts, and community support from corporate and foundation donations, individual donations, and two fundraising events, the annual School Bell Breakfast and the annual Chief’s Watch Party. The School Bell Breakfast in April raised $337,000 for scholarships and the October Chief’s Watch Party raised about $41,000.
Operating and reserve accounts of the Fund are established at the Catholic Community Foundation, an independent public charity whose mission is to financially support the spiritual, educational and other charitable needs of the local Catholic community.
The Bright Futures Fund makes a promise: To activate the spirit and build the minds of students through a foundation of faith, held up by the Fund’s four pillars — spirituality, community, family and education — in a safe, warm and loving, Catholic, challenging and encouraging environment. Just ask current and former students how the Fund has kept that promise.
To learn more visit www.brightfuturesfund.org.