By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Associate Editor
KANSAS CITY – Since 1989, the Bright Futures Fund has offered thousands of children a pathway out of poverty—a Catholic education. In the early years, the Fund (then known as the Central City Schools Fund) helped families in need send their children to Catholic grade schools by providing need-based tuition assistance scholarships. Today, through partnerships with local Catholic high schools, graduates of Our Lady of Hope and Holy Cross schools can receive both need and merit based scholarships to attend one of those schools and be nearer to realizing their dreams. And college has become real for Bright Futures students through a partnership with Avila University.
A number of Bright Futures Fund alumni have earned scholarships to Avila and other colleges and universities through hard work, study and persistence, and are seeing a clearer path to their own future and freedom from poverty. Maria Rojas is one.
She walks purposefully through the UMKC campus, heading for classes or the library or to the Student Union for a break. The sophomore in the university’s pre-med program first became interested in medicine at an 8th grade career day at Our Lady of Angels School, now Our Lady of Hope.
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.”
By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Associate Editor
KANSAS CITY — Usually, co-chairs for events and programs are husband-wife teams. The diocesan Bright Futures Fund, which recently launched the “Shine Brightly” success plan, named three father-daughter teams as its capital campaign co-chairs—unique, surprising and likely a long-term win-win for the Shine Brightly plan and for the Bright Futures Fund schools.
The Bright Futures Fund raises funds to fully support operating costs of Holy Cross and Our Lady of Hope schools and subsidizes tuition costs for nearly 100 percent of the students. In addition, the Fund helps several partner schools in Kansas City, Montrose and Nevada, Missouri.
The Shine Brightly plan, which is expected to be fully implemented in the next 18 months, will necessitate facility improvements, new curriculum and instructional resources, scholarship and reserve funding for the schools and expanded support for the three partner schools. To that end, a $5.2 million capital campaign has been initiated.
An excessively shy little girl at Our Lady of Hope spent the last school year “Making herself as invisible as possible,” says her 7th grade teacher, Dena Campbell. She wouldn’t make eye contact. She wouldn’t talk to other students. At lunch she stayed in the classroom by herself. That same little girl is now planning her Quinceañera with new friends. Kindness made the difference. Kindness encouraged a timid young girl to lift her gaze.
Though everyone in her class recognized her shyness, after a few weeks of the school’s Kindness Campaign, one young boy—instead of discounting her—said, “We don’t know what she’s going through.” Empathy changed him from looking the other way to looking with more sympathy at his classmate.
The school’s campaign was designed around a curriculum based on the book and movie, Wonder. Originally planned for religion-studies students, the school ultimately decided to share the learnings school-wide, encouraging everyone to take a deeper look at what it means to be kind, to live with more understanding for each other’s situation.
Every morning, principal Mary Delac, led the entire school in a morning prayer, choosing a different emotion or life-challenge to reflect upon—feeling unloved, being incarcerated, having drug addiction problems. The students then shared a moment of silence as they thought about situations others (perhaps themselves) were living through. “I realized that life is bigger than me,” one boy shared with his teacher.
It was a good lesson for grade school students to learn. It’s a good lesson for all of us to learn from them.
Several months ago four seventh graders at Our Lady of Hope used gun control as the focus of a joint art project. From that one project, these students organized a rally and on April 20th, 58 students “walked out” of school to stand up for their values. When asked why, one student simply said, “Guns just aren’t right.”
How did they feel during their protest? “Really good,” said one. And after? Everyone joined in singing the Prayer of Saint Francis. It was a meaningful day for the students who conceived of and led the rally, one that was encouraged and supported by the school’s administration and teachers.
The day began with a middle school assembly to talk about the walk out. (Students who chose not to participate were supported with as much encouragement and understanding as the protesters.) After the assembly the kids walked a few blocks to McDonalds, where they stood on the corner of 43rd Street and Rainbow Boulevard, chanting and waving posters. The chant—Don’t Build a Wall, Change the Gun Law—were the student’s own words. 46 posters—also student-conceived and designed—were made and waved. A McDonald’s customer bought all participating kids a soft drink.
When asked about the experience, the students shared their excitement when cars honked and held thumbs-up in support. They also talked about other onlookers who were angry and felt the need to shout diminishing epitaphs and brandish negative gestures. What did they do then, they were asked. “We got louder”, they responded proudly.
During the assembly earlier in the day, the students were wisely coached to not engage with negativity. In fact, this lesson alone could have been the focus of the march itself. Because, they shared, how we respond to what happens to us reflects what we value and are willing to stand for. These students value peace. They stood up and walked out to proclaim the value of peace in their classrooms, and the world.
Before heading back to school for another assembly—which provided a safe space for the kids to discuss and process the day with teachers—they all joined in a moment of silence.
Why April 20th? It was the 19th anniversary of the shootings at Columbine High School, resulting in 15 deaths. Since then guns have continued to cut young lives short. From Sandy Hook Elementary to Virginia Tech to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School (and sadly, others), gun violence against young lives continues. This past month, 58 youngsters in a Kansas City Missouri Catholic school decided to say the shootings need to stop. So they made a plan. “We all did,” said one young man. Moreover, they all followed through.
"The scholarship from Bright Futures helped ease the financial pressure of sending my son to private school and allowed me to place all my focus on becoming the best parent I can be. Thank you for your financial support, which is very much appreciated. I will work hard to make sure that you feel that you have made a wise decision in selecting my son as one of your Scholarship recipients. Again, thank you for your generosity." — Antoney Perez
Juan Marron and Mateo De La Torre have no question about why they love Our Lady of Hope and the Catholic education it provides them. “Being here makes me a better person,” says Juan. “And I’m more comfortable being around people I know,” Mateo adds. “There’s no drama, no bullying. We have fun in school without worrying.”
For a pair of 8th grade boys preparing to graduate in the next couple of months, their comments are wise beyond their years. Their words are also deeply satisfying. Thanks to Bright Futures Fund, both students are well on their way to significant future endeavors that will be grounded in daily prayer and faith. Mateo is pretty sure he wants to be a coach. Juan hasn’t yet committed. He’s still considering his options.
They feel safe at Our Lady of Hope. Both boys agree that’s partially because their teachers keep an eye on them. “They make sure we’re doing the right thing,” both confirm. Asked if they’ll miss their teachers they nod their heads. “We will,” both agree. And they’ll miss their friends. “We’re a family here,” the boys say, knowing families are hard to replace.
Thanks to Bright Futures Fund, both students are well on their way to significant future endeavors that will be grounded in daily prayer and faith.