Valuing education

This past week, Catholic Charities held our annual fundraiser, the Spring Celebration. The event provides us with the incredible opportunity to gather and celebrate the work we do and the clients we serve across Eastern Massachusetts.

As we do each year, we presented our Justice and Compassion Award -- an award that recognizes someone who embodies the values of charity, compassion and service to those in need. On that evening we honor someone who demonstrates a shared commitment to our mission, "building a just and compassionate society rooted in the dignity of all people." This year, we are honored to have presented Father Theodore Hesburgh, President Emeritus of the University of Notre Dame, with the Catholic Charities Justice and Compassion Award. Unfortunately, following a recent surgery, Father Hesburgh was unable to travel to be with us that evening. However, we were honored to have Notre Dame's current president, Father John Jenkins, with us to accept the award on his behalf.

At Catholic Charities we believe that education is the key to living a healthier, more economically stable life, so it is truly fitting that we honor such a recognized leader in education as Father Hesburgh. During a university presidency that spanned three decades, Father Hesburgh's work also stretched beyond education to issues of social justice, including civil rights, peaceful uses of atomic energy, Third World development, Palestinian-Israeli relationships and immigration reform. He has served as counselor to four popes and six presidents and has held 14 presidential appointments throughout his years of service.

We are truly fortunate to have been blessed by Father Hesburgh's vision and leadership. He serves as an inspiration for each of us to learn more, to educate effectively and to lead wisely.

To that end, we work to ensure that families and individuals from all walks of life have the same opportunities for success and have access to programs and services to meet fundamental needs. Education programs are one of the most important services we provide across all of the communities we serve. Beginning with early childhood education at our childcare centers -- which all consistently receive the prominent National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) accreditation -- Catholic Charities staff and our more than 2,000 volunteers are dedicated to the importance of education.

We know that when a child has access to high quality early education, we have helped to prevent poverty in their lifetime. Research by foundations and universities has shown that children who attend quality preschool programs outperform those who did not in terms of the levels of education they pursue, their economic performance, their rates of crime involvement, the quality of their family relations and their overall physical and mental health.

By providing services at every level -- including adult education programs, afterschool programs for teens, tutoring programs, education programs for immigrants and training programs to re-enter the workforce -- we are preparing students of all ages and educational levels to succeed.

Out-of-school programs are also essential to ensuring education success and, as we look ahead to summer, we know that summer learning loss for children is a tremendous detriment to academic success. Each summer, school aged children and teens participate in summer programs offered at a number of our service locations. The oldest of these programs, Hull's Sunset Point Camp, serves as a dream "vacation" for nearly 400 children each summer.

The camp was a donation to Catholic Charities in 1919 by the Massachusetts State Council of the Knights of Columbus. For many years, the camp was known as the "Children's Vacation House" and its goal has always been to provide children from low-income neighborhoods throughout the Greater Boston area, without regard for their race, nationality, or religious affiliation, a week away from home and the difficulties they endure. They swim in our pool and the ocean, go paddleboating and kayaking, enjoy team-building exercises with their fellow campers and staff, paint and draw in arts and crafts, have time to read and learn, enjoy ice cream socials and treasure night, along with a host of other activities centered around having fun.

The Friends of Sunset Point Camp are hosting the second annual "Reach for the Stars Clambake" on Saturday, June 18, 2011 from 6-10 p.m. rain or shine. This a great opportunity to enjoy an evening with friends while supporting Catholic Charities and its efforts to provide children the gift of a unique summer camping experience. For more information about the Clambake go to:

Debbie Rambo is president of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Boston.