Catholic school students had a chance to say “thank you” to their educational guardian angels when Futures in Education hosted its annual Angel Reception at the New York Hall of Science, Corona, April 7.
Children arrived carrying bouquets and hand-written cards for the men and women who provide them with tuition support through Futures’ “Be an Angel” program. More than 400 children, parents, principals and sponsors turned out for an evening of science activities, food and fun.
“The ‘Be an Angel’ program is Futures in Education’s signature program,” explained Nick Vendikos, Futures’ director of development. “It’s basically an adopt-a-student program where we have ‘Angels’ who sponsor a child.”
The event featured remarks from Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio and Dr. Thomas Chadzutko, diocesan superintendent of Catholic schools, and a student testimonial. The emcee was Joseph Sciame, a member of Futures’ board and vice president for community relations at St. John’s University.
Husband-and-Wife Angel Team
A big smile crossed the face of Wesley Gomez, an eighth grader at Salve Regina Catholic Academy, East New York, when he saw his Angels, Joseph and Irene Roach.
The couple, parishioners at St. Mel, Flushing, have been sponsoring the young man “since he was this big,” Irene said, holding her hand at about half the height Gomez is now.
“My angels mean the world to me,” Gomez said. “I’ve grown up knowing them. They love me and I love them. I give them the same respect I give my mom and dad.”
Gomez and his mom Nelda Taveras spent the evening chatting with the couple about school, sports and his plans to play baseball when he heads to Christ the King H.S., Middle Village, this fall. He knows his Angels will continue to follow his personal and academic progress.
The Roaches are two of 260 sponsors who have donated over $1 million to defray tuition costs for 750 Catholic schoolchildren in Brooklyn and Queens through the Angel Program this year.
“We’re called to do the best we can and support goodness in the world,” Joseph said, explaining why he and his wife became Angels. “We certainly think that Catholic education is goodness.”
Individuals can sponsor one or more students in Catholic elementary schools by providing tuition assistance starting at $1,500 per year. During the evening, the bishop thanked all of the Angels in the diocese, and recognized one extraordinary angel, John Loconsolo, who sponsors nearly 70 children.
“Angels are everyday people from different parishes, different walks of life,” Vendikos said, noting that many sponsors are parents of Catholic school graduates or are alumni themselves.
Through the year, sponsors receive Christmas greetings, report cards and notes from their students, and have opportunities like the Angel Reception to meet in person.
Student speaker Mary Muir said her Angel couldn’t attend the reception, but he sent her a letter stating how proud he is of her accomplishments. An eighth grader at St. Sebastian School, Woodside, Muir will attend Loyola H.S., Manhattan, this fall on a $100,000 academic scholarship.
“I am one of five children and I am fully aware that it would have been very difficult for my parents to send me to a Catholic school without help from Futures in Education,” Muir told those gathered at the Hall of Science.
“Thanks to the Angel Program, the financial burden of attending the school of my choice has been significantly reduced, and my Catholic education and Catholic identity make me who I am today.”
The commitment Angels make is far more than a financial one, Vendikos pointed out as he shared the story of one sponsor who was concerned because her student wasn’t doing well in math.
“Instead of just cutting a check, she called our office and said, ‘How can I get involved? Can I get him a tutor? Can I tutor him? What can we do?’”
As a result, that young man received the help he needed and Vendikos reports that his grades have seen a marked improvement.
“It’s not just a transaction; it’s a relationship and pride in Catholic education,” he said.
Fortifying Catholic education for future generations is a priority for Bishop DiMarzio. Eight years ago, he launched Preserving the Vision, an ongoing plan to strengthen Catholic schools in the diocese by transitioning them to an academy model. Most recently, he’s been fighting for education tax credits to ease the burden of tuition on families.
“If we’re going to have any Catholics in the next generation, we need to educate them,” the bishop said. “All education is important, but a value education with the religious component, there’s no comparison to it.”
“Be an Angel” is one of three scholarship programs sponsored by Futures, which provided $8.4 million in tuition assistance to over 5,000 children in Catholic grade schools in the diocese this year.
Partnering with Futures in this effort are the Children’s Scholarship Fund, DeSales Media Group, the Annual Catholic Appeal and all who support the annual scholarship fund dinner and golf outing.
On behalf of Futures and Msgr. Jamie Gigantiello, diocesan vicar for development, the bishop presented a ceremonial check representing that financial assistance to Dr. Chadzutko.
“I think there is so much we should be doing and could be doing in the Catholic sector today to support our Catholic schools,” said Sciame, event emcee.
Grateful for the Catholic education he received at St. Malachy School, East New York, Sciame sponsors a second grader at Salve Regina Catholic Academy, which succeeded his alma mater.
“To me it is so very important to keep them (Catholic schools) open and to keep a sense of religion being studied,” he said.
Addressing the youngsters present, the bishop said, “Your parents have sacrificed to put you in Catholic school. We’re helping you to stay there by the scholarships you receive.”
Gomez knows the sacrifices his parents make to give him a Catholic education, and he is well aware of the gift the Roaches’ have given him.
Putting his arm around the couple, he said, “I love you and I have respect for both of you.”
“We have a lot of respect for you too, Wesley,” Joseph said. “You’re a good lad. We’re proud to know you.”