The cornerstone for St. Michael School in Penn Yan was laid May 14, 1882, and the school turned 125 last month. That milestone is being honored by setting out to reach another milestone — school officials hope to raise $1.25 million over the next five years.
The Secure Our Future campaign is the school’s attempt to do just that — to ensure the school will be around to serve the Penn Yan community for another 125 years. In recent years the school has struggled with its enrollment and operating expenses, said Sally Prather, a member of the school’s development committee.
“Over the last five years and until this past year, enrollment was declining, and we really weren’t able to sustain the operating expenses with the existing enrollment,” Prather said.
That declining enrollment, in combination with declining parish support and increasing expenses, placed the school in a precarious position. Enrollment has been climbing recently, and school officials hope this campaign will help solidify the school’s position. The campaign has already raised slightly more than $100,000, Prather said.
The school officially launched the campaign in October 2006 with a series of events targeting the school’s alumni. St. Michael’s held social events at three Finger Lakes-area wineries, and each event was geared toward alumni from a specific time period, Prather said.
“We took a group of graduates from a certain period and invited them, thinking that it would be a good way for them to reconnect with classmates,” Prather said. “(The events were) small enough and intimate enough that people could talk, and we could share with them the dynamics of this campaign we were trying to launch.”
Some alumni were at first skeptical about the size and scope of the campaign, but many were very supportive of it, Prather said. In fact, nearly two-thirds of the $100,000 raised thus far came in as a result of those evenings at the wineries, she added.
“People saw the need and thought it was something that could be achieved and sustainable,” Prather said.
On May 9 more than 60 people visited the school for Business After Hours, the most recent fundraising event for Secure Our Future. The event was an open house at the school in conjunction with the Yates County Chamber of Commerce, and Prather said school officials used the event as a way to drum up community support for the school.
St. Michael School is a resource for the entire Penn Yan community, Prather said, rather than just the community’s Catholic segment. She said she is hoping community members who haven’t experienced the school — and thus aren’t as emotionally attached to it as alumni — will be compelled to donate to the campaign when they realize how valuable the school is to the entire community.
“In our rural area, it gives families a choice in education. We’re trying to focus on getting people to believe in this type of education and the need for this type of a school in their community,” Prather said. “We’re focusing on really putting an emphasis on the type of education and programs that are available.”
Those programs include before- and after-school care and innovative technology tools, including a new interactive white board, she said. During the open house faculty members demonstrated how the board works and why its important for children to have access to such tools.
“We’re moving into the 21st century, and we’re providing tools for the kids to learn in a number of different ways. We’re giving the community the opportunity to invest and see how we can be a vital part of the community,” Prather said.
More than 50 people have donated to the campaign so far, and donations have ranged from $50 and $100 to $30,000, Prather said. The school’s development committee has planned several 125th-anniversary events for later this month and for the beginning of the 2007-08 school year, and Prather hopes those events will help the campaign meet it’s goal of raising $250,000 each year for the next five years.
EDITOR’S NOTE: For more information or to donate to the Secure Our Future campaign, contact Sally Prather at 315/536-0929 or e-mail her at email@example.com.