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.
Her family had struggled to send her to Our Lady of Guadalupe School and, when it was closed in 2016, Maria attended public school for a year. Her parents were able to enroll her at Our Lady of Angels for her eighth-grade year.
She said she had no idea what the Bright Futures Fund did at that time in her life. Her first real inkling came during her freshman year at Notre Dame de Sion High School.
A telephone call from Frank Uryasz, a well-known local Catholic businessman and member of the Bright Futures Fund Board of Directors, opened the door to her future. He told her he was interested in becoming her sponsor, enabling her to receive scholarship money to attend Sion for her high school career.
“I had been interested in the arts since Our Lady of Guadalupe,” Maria recalled. “and during that career day at Angels, I discovered cardiovascular surgery, which fascinated me! My teachers at Guadalupe and Angels had high expectations of me which made me want to succeed.”
Could she combine those interests?
She worked hard through high school, despite financial difficulties at home.
“My mom told me that whatever I did, to do the best I could. She didn’t want me to have to go through what they had gone through,” Maria said.
She recalled not really understanding what the Bright Futures Fund was all about, but she knew it worked in the schools and it worked for her and her family.
Then a full ride to UMKC opened the door wide. Maria changed her major focus to trauma surgery (“I like to work under pressure!”) and is minoring in Latin American Studies and Criminology.
“The Latin American studies are more for me personally,” she grinned. “I want to learn more about my own history, my indigenous roots. I’m also very interested in immigration and its effects on immigrants and society.”
Maria has years of study before her, undergraduate, medical school, residencies and graduate studies. But she is firmly set on her goal. The Uryasz family is behind her, encouraging her, all the way.
Watching her walk confidently toward her next class, head up, long hair swinging, it is easy to imagine the surgeon she hopes to be. And the Bright Futures Fund played a big behind-the-scenes role in her growth.
By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Associate Editor
To see the original article in the Catholic Key, click here.