Diocesan News

How the Diocese’s Futures in Education and Catholic Foundation Prevailed During the Pandemic

Above, some of the women who work for the Catholic Foundation for Brooklyn and Queens (CFBQ) and Futures in Education (FIE) for Brooklyn and Queens. CFBQ financially supports the local Catholic community’s spiritual, educational, and social needs.

WINDSOR TERRACE — Educator Helen Keller once said, “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”

It’s a mantra that can be applied to the teams who work simultaneously at the Catholic Foundation for Brooklyn and Queens (CFBQ) and Futures in Education (FIE) for Brooklyn and Queens.

CFBQ financially supports the local Catholic community’s spiritual, educational, and social needs through the procurement and building of endowment funds — awarding over $2 million in grants annually. FIE provides assistance to the neediest of diocesan school students through endowment funds and fundraising programs.

Both groups were crucial last year when families found themselves unable to pay school tuitions for the remainder of the 2019-2020 academic year. Many students who had never been part of FIE’s Be an Angel to a Student Program were now in need of financial assistance. Through the program, an Angel donor helps subsidize the cost of a student’s Catholic grammar school tuition by providing partial tuition assistance, starting at $2,000 per year.

Lauren McCormack, director of mission advancement at both organizations, made it a priority to conduct wellness checks with donors. Calls made throughout March and April 2020 were vital, she explained, because her team could learn what donors were going through in the moment.

“We took it upon ourselves to make sure that we were there for our donors — the way that they’re here for us when it comes to needing donations for certain programs or sponsoring multiple students each year,” McCormack said.

Major Gifts Officer Jeanne Mulry, who works directly under McCormack, stays connected with current donors and reaches out to prospective donors.

“We have a lot of great donors who really believe in the value of Catholic education because they received so much from their own Catholic education or have seen the great work Catholic schools are doing,” said Mulry, who has been in the world of Catholic school fundraising for the past eight years.

McCormack’s team quickly set up a COVID-19 emergency relief fund, which raised $900,000 — McCormack and Mulry said this past year was one of their best in terms of recommitments.

“Even in the midst of economic uncertainty, the Angel Program grew this year because learning in school became a precious commodity. People were happy to help keep that going,” Mulry said. “And when the schools opened up safely in September, I think it really energized our Angels.”

Director of Operations Aida Torres ensures donors’ intents are met while processing financial gifts and that those gifts get distributed correctly.

While making sure the Angel Program was up and running during the pandemic, Torres’s team also helped parish and school operations continue. When money was not physically coming into the churches because they were closed, she and her team helped parishes set up e-giving accounts. They also stepped in to spearhead and build online tuition portals for the schools.

“A lot of people don’t really know what we do,” said Torres, who compares herself to the Wizard of Oz behind the scenes. “This year, I think, we were put in the forefront to say, ‘Yes, look — this is what the Catholic Foundation and Futures is all about. We are here as a team to help the different components of the diocese.’ ”

One of the women Torres closely works with is Michelle Fox, director of programs. Part of Fox’s job is to understand how funds are being used across the diocese, report updates to the donors, and see if they would like to continue making donations.

Though she admits there are some days when no one returns their calls, Fox says she remembers the end goal — helping someone, somewhere in the diocese.

“Sometimes you feel like you’ve been jumping through hoops all day,” she continued, “but it’s satisfying to know we got this student into a school or we’re able to help a parish.”

Nicole Steinweiss, who has been working in the diocese for more than a decade, serves as an assistant comptroller at CFBQ and the treasurer on FIE’s board. She oversees both organizations’ financials — keeping track of investments and grants, producing board reports, and doing audits.

“Being asked to be treasurer was huge because it showed me that the board really respected me and the work I do,” Steinweiss said, explaining that her field is often male-dominated. “Even though I’m crunching numbers, I feel like I have a real purpose and doing a service for the community.”

Steinweiss works closely with Torres and Fox and says teamwork is critical.

“We have daily conversations about what’s going on, how to keep the foundation strong and running, and how we can help more people with scholarships and grants,” she said.