Each autumn students and parents alike eagerly look forward to St. Lawrence School’s annual walkathon. Not only is the day full of fun, festivities and food for the students and their families, but it’s also a major fundraiser for the Greece school.
"It raises enough that it’s the only fundraiser we do all year and it’s used to enhance our programs, said Principal Susan Sak.
The St. Lawrence School walkathon involves the wider Greece and Rochester communities, rather than just St. Lawrence parents and parishioners, and this is one of the things that makes it so successful, Sak said. The school partners with Aquinas Institute, which lends the use of its field house and track for the annual event, and individuals sponsor children participating in the walkathon. Numerous local businesses provide financial support, and in return their names and logos are printed on the official walkathon T-shirts and on signs displayed in front of the school and around the track during the walkathon.
Such partnerships between schools and their communities are among the key ingredients necessary for successful, thriving Catholic schools, noted Anne Willkens Leach, superintendent of diocesan Catholic schools. One common characteristic of successful schools, she said, is a willingness on the part of the school staff and volunteers to reach beyond the school community and the Catholic community for support. A number of local Catholic schools have done this very successfully in recent years, she noted.
In 2010 St. Michael School in Penn Yan held its inaugural Bike the Bluff fundraiser, during which 60 bicyclists pedaled three different courses along the shores of Keuka Lake. Participants came from the St. Michael School family and the Penn Yan community as well as the broader biking community, and participants paid registration fees and also gathered pledges from sponsors. Organizers hoped the fledgling fundraiser would bring in $5,000 that first year, but instead it netted more than $8,000.
All Saints Academy in Corning recently reached out to its local community for support, and well-known glass and ceramics company Corning Inc. responded with tremendous support, Willkens Leach said. And in late 2009, St. Ann School in Hornell launched aggressive fundraising and enrollment campaigns after school officials were told they needed to either raise $120,000 or increase enrollment by 30 students in order to open for the 2010-11 school year. The Hornell community pulled together and raised more than $133,000 in pledges and donations by the end of February 2010, and the school was allowed to remain open.
Communities can’t pull together like that to support their local Catholic schools if they don’t know the schools exist, or don’t know much about them, Willkens Leach said. One of the first steps toward garnering community support is making the school as visible as possible in that community. This might mean posting banners about the school and its events around town, or making sure the school’s name is clearly visible to people driving by the building, she said.
"The more we are visible in the community, hopefully the more aware the community is of Catholic education," Willkens Leach said.
St. Lawrence School is highly visible in its local community in part because during the school year its students participate in a variety of service and outreach projects, many of which benefit local agencies and charities, Sak said. Over the last few years, for example, St. Lawrence students have raised hundreds of dollars for Andrews Center, an area foster home for children with special needs. Local businesses and individuals know what an asset the school is to the community, so they have no reservations about supporting it, she said.
The diocesan Catholic schools office made a big push to increase Catholic schools’ visibility June 26, when it partnered with the Rochester Red Wings baseball team to hold Catholic Schools Night at Frontier Field (see photos on page B8). Students from several local Catholic schools marched in a pregame parade around the field and sang "God Bless America" on the field during the game. Staff and volunteers from several schools manned information booths inside the stadium, pennants celebrating Catholic schools were distributed during the game, and the Red Wings players and their mascot, Spikes, even wore plaid jerseys inspired by Catholic-school uniforms.
"That was a huge community effort," Willkens Leach said. "The big idea for that was raising an awareness of Catholic education. We are alive, we are well."
Raising awareness of Catholic schools will not only help them garner financial support, but also hopefully increase enrollment, she said. Getting the word out about Catholic schools is becoming increasingly important as more and more charter schools and private schools are opening in the area, she added.
"We just want to get the word out that Catholic schools are a valid and sound choice for some people. We want to be considered as part of their choice. If they choose not to go with us that’s fine, but we at least want them to know we’re here," Willkens Leach said.