By Emily Drooby and Melissa Enaje
Sitting at a table together in a Queens science hall filled with families and Catholic school students from across the diocese, two complete strangers try to get to know each other. The age gap is decades apart – on one end, a young professional and on the other end, an elementary student. With the help of preconfigured questions, the question and answer portion started off simple.
“What’s your favorite color?” asked Francesca Spinelli.
“Pink,” replied Dara.
“Mine’s green,” Spinelli replied.
Smiles continued between the two as the meet and greet portion of the diocese’s Futures in Education annual Angel reception continued throughout the night.
“My parents sacrificed a whole lot to send me to Catholic school and right now it’s time to pay it forward,” Spinelli said during the April 10 event held at the New York Hall of Science in Flushing.
The ‘Angels’ are adults who sponsor children from low-income families throughought Brooklyn and Queens through the “Be an Angel to a Student” program. The goal of the scholarship program is to give the children an opportunity to receive a Catholic education.
Spinelli and elementary student Darah are meeting for the first time, but Spinelli has already had a profound impact on Darah’s life. She helps Darah attend Catholic school and the classes she loves.
When asked what her favorite classes were Darah said, “Gym class and music because we get to play the flute.”
Msgr. Jamie Gigantiello, the diocesan vicar for development, emceed the event.
“It’s just a wonderful, wonderful experience, to see the children for the first time meeting their angels,” said Msgr. Gigantiello, “and even the expressions on the angels faces to see the children that they’re helping, it makes them feel good too.”
Futures in Education, the scholarship fund of the Diocese of Brooklyn, provides assistance to help students in Brooklyn and Queens enjoy a Catholic education. Spinelli’s donation helps pay for Darah’s tuition. This is Spinelli’s first year as a donor.
Under the program, a person may sponsor one or more students in Catholic elementary schools by providing tuition assistance starting at $1,500 per year.
Taking One Step Further
Futures takes a typical tuition assistance program a step further. Angels and donors stay in touch throughout the year through handwritten notes, cards and drawings. Donors are also informed about the academic status of their students through progress reports. They also get together for the annual angel reception.
Yet more than providing just financial support, angels also invest in their student’s confidence to succeed, which resonates into the lives of the entire family.
Over the years, Futures in Education has given out $107 million to more than 30,000 students. The financial assistance goes to the families regardless of religious denomination.
In 2019, at Our Lady of Sorrows in Corona, more than 140 students were awarded Futures scholarships worth more than $290,000 and more than 99 percent of students at the school identified as Latino, according to Futures in Education.
Currently, 4,500 students are benefiting from the scholarship programs. Some have an angel and some receive scholarships from other funds, but all students who receive help are giving the non-profit their stamp of approval.
Students like Lovely said, “I just really enjoy the angel program, so thank you so much.”