Celebrating 30 years of providing Catholic education to children in poverty

By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Associate Editor

KANSAS CITY — Bishop John J. Sullivan established the Central City School Fund in 1989 to help families in Kansas City’s urban core attend Catholic schools. A lay board was formed in order to raise funds to support the schools of parishes that were unable to provide enough support.  There were eight schools designated for assistance at the time. Over the years some schools closed, and time, resources and several in close proximity to other fund-assisted schools forced it to scale back.

The fund was also challenged due to the increased need of attending families coupled with rising educational costs.

In 2010, the name of the fund was changed to the Bright Futures Fund. The charter was redrawn to provide the opportunity to reshape the mission of the fund to accommodate schools within the diocese but outside the Kansas City School district, as the fund staff and board began studying the needs of the community.

Jeremy Lillig was hired by the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph in 2011 as Director of the Bright Futures Fund. He established a new and expanding board “committed to what we deemed a ‘renaissance’ of efforts to improve, create sustainable growth, and continue to make effective change.”

The Bright Futures Fund has scaled down to two schools, Holy Cross and Our Lady of Hope. Three partner schools, St. Regis Academy in Kansas City, St. Mary in Montrose and St. Mary in Nevada, are provided scholarship assistance. Lillig said he equates the fund’s “strategic shifts to … an old house. It’s big and has leaky windows and warping floors. We taken the house down to studs and are rebuilding it to look modern, while preserving its historically significant character but looking forward, ready for the next 30 years.” 

The past eight years has seen a lot done toward the fund’s “renaissance.”  It became an independent public charity (501 c 3). Remodeling of Our Lady of Hope and Holy Cross schools was begun, with a plan to finish both campuses. Lillig said new curriculum was purchased, a complete overhaul of technology instituted and consistent classroom resources and environments at both schools was created.  “We’ve grown in fundraising capacity, public awareness, and mission effectiveness,” he added. “In addition, we’ve added high school opportunities to expand beyond grade school, carrying forward Catholic formation to critically important years of development.”

Holy Cross School parent Geoffrey Henggeler has served on the School Advisory Council for eight+ years and serves as a Bright Futures Fund lay Board member. He and his wife, Jennifer, have two sons attending Holy Cross School. They are both actively involved in the school — Jennifer serves as the Parent Teacher Organization president — and both parents help out at school activities and events.

When asked about his interest in the Bright Futures Fund, Henggeler said, “If it weren’t for the Fund, Holy Cross School might not exist. Of course, I have a personal interest in the school as my boys go there, but many, many kids in Northeast Kansas City might not be able to attend a Catholic school for distance and/or financial reasons.”

The Bright Futures Fund recently launched the “Shine Brightly” formation plan for success. Lillig explained, “This plan, once fully implemented, will create opportunities for students in need, from age 2 to career.  We will add early childhood, and we’ve started added college opportunities. Once implemented, we’ll be serving approximately 1,000 students annually. More than we ever have in our history.”

The campaign is expected to be fully implemented within the next 18 months.

A $5.2 million Capital Campaign is slated to fund significant improvements to Holy Cross and Our Lady of Hope schools. At Holy Cross, Henggeler said, a field house containing a gymnasium and meeting rooms will serve the school, the parish and the neighborhood. The Indian Mound neighborhood, where Holy Cross is located, knows of the school and the positive interaction its teachers and staff have with the school families and the students, day in and day out, he said. And it’s been proven that the presence of a Catholic school in a neighborhood helps with issues such as crime. The proposed fieldhouse will help build a bridge between the school and the neighborhood. 

The school building, originally built in 1922, has been remodeled in the last few years but is in need of new windows and exterior repairs. The parking lot also needs improvements.

Our Lady of Hope School, housed in the 65-year-old Guardian Angels school building, underwent remodeling before the school opened in 2016. In the past three years, additional remodeling and the installation of the statue of Our Lady of Hope was completed. The capital campaign will fund classroom remodeling.

Henggeler added, “As time goes by, both Holy Cross and Our Lady of Hope will need new life blood. We’ve seen the viability of both schools make significant progress in the past five years.” Going forward, at Holy Cross, for example, an early childhood center and program (part of the Shine Brightly plan) will provide an incentive and foot in the door for future families and students.

The capital campaign will also raise funds for Instructional Resources including Science and Social Studies curriculum, technological upgrades and reserves for both Our Lady of Hope and Holy Cross schools; scholarship funding and reserves for both schools, and expanded support for the partner schools.

“Our schools may be less in number, but our impact is stronger than ever, “ Lillig said. “Our average household income is $16,000 a year and our families are 93 percent Catholic. Our alums have a 3.3 average GPA in high school. The ability and success is there; the opportunities aren’t always there. So, we’re working to change that.”

He said the Bright Futures Fund will continue to assess the needs, adapt, and grow in a sustainable way in order to always be looking forward, not back.

“With our plan we WILL lift students out of poverty,” he said. “The evidence proves that education works, we just need to keep fighting for the worthy mission to allow it to happen.”

The Bright Futures staff Lillig, Ken Kremer, Gail Vertz and Christopher Hotchkiss work daily to secure resources and gifts, provide opportunities for students, and support the schools’ faculty and staff.  “We operate in transparency, and we’ve earned a certified platinum rating from GuideStar nonprofit listing. Only 2 percent of non-profits have this distinguished rating that looks at transparency, equitable spending, and accountability of reporting.”

One hundred percent of donations goes directly to the Bright Futures schools and partner schools. The administrative expenses are funded through family support (tuition and school fundraising), the schools; deanery parishes (Our Lady of Sorrows; Our Lady of Good Counsel; Holy Rosary, Guardian Angels, St. Anthony, Holy Cross; Our Lady of Perpetual Help (Redemptorist); the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, and Sacred Heart-Guadalupe); and community support, including the Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese and Corporate/Foundation contributions.

Board president Sean Miller and the lay board of directors support the Bright Futures Fund staff and mission as advocates for Catholic education and helping lift students out of poverty through education.

Congratulations Bright Futures for three decades of providing families in need with a Catholic education as a path to lifting students out of poverty and benefitting neighborhoods as well, and here’s to the next 30 years of making students’ dreams come true.

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Thursday
February 27, 2020
Newspaper of the Diocese of Kansas City ~ St. Joseph