Inner-City Scholarship Fund supporters go ‘Back to Class’

Former New England Patriots wide receiver Troy Brown signs autographs for students at Pope John Paul II Catholic Academy Columbia Road Campus May 20. Brown was one 60 people touring the school as part of the Catholic Schools Foundation annual Back to Class Bus Tour which gives donors and potential donors the chance to meet some students helped by the foundation’s Inner-City Scholarship Fund. Pilot photo/ Gregory L. Tracy

On May 20, the Catholic Schools Foundation hosted its annual Back to Class Bus Tour with nearly 60 people partaking in the field trip from Boston’s Financial District to one of the 89 schools supported by the foundation’s Inner-City Scholarship Fund.

This year’s outing brought ICSF chairman Peter Lynch, former New England Patriots wide receiver Troy Brown and dozens of current and potential donors to Dorchester’s Pope John Paul II Catholic Academy’s Columbia Campus for an opportunity to witness firsthand how their support of the ICSF helps to transform the lives of the children it serves.

“The great thing about coming here to the school is that it’s a remarkable day to connect the donors to the students so they can see the lives that are being touched and transformed through their support,” said Michael Reardon, executive director of CSF, told The Pilot.

“It’s also good for the students to see that someone cares about them, that someone they don’t even know believes in them,” he added.

Guests were greeted by students and faculty and given private student-led tours of the school building, which reopened in September 2008 following major renovations after the consolidation of eight parish schools in the Dorchester and Mattapan neighborhoods into one regional school with five campuses.

Tours were followed by lunch in the school cafeteria with the students, musical performances by grades K1-6, and a short speaking program by organization heads, school administrators and Boston City Councilor Maureen Feeney.

Feeney, a Dorchester native, thanked ICSF and its donors, whom she called “the visionaries,” for their commitment to saving Catholic education.

“It is not just the standards of education--the reading and writing--it is the discipline, it is the character that is really demonstrated to these children that has made a difference in their lives,” said Feeney.

“I had my doubts, and I am here to say that I am now a believer,” she said. “And I am so grateful on behalf of all of these children who are the beneficiaries of your generosity--your Christian love in action.”

Grounded in the belief that “education shouldn’t just be a privilege of those who can afford it,” ICSF enables thousands of disadvantaged students to attend Boston’s inner-city parochial schools each year by providing millions of dollars in scholarship support. The 32,000 students who attend CSF-served schools live in 37 of the city’s most distressed communities, with over half of them from families with incomes below the federal poverty level or from single-parent households where the parent is working two or even three jobs.

In this year alone, ICSF disbursed $7 million over 5,400 partial scholarships; $1 million of that went toward scholarship and program aid for the students at PJP II.

Lynch thanked the donors for investing in the formula for success that a Catholic education provides children in inner-city neighborhoods like Dorchester. Their support of the ICSF provides opportunities otherwise unavailable to these children and gives hope to those who may not have any, he said, saying, “It might be the best investment you make all year.”

In a letter to the benefactors distributed in the CSF Annual Report, Lynch wrote:

“You’ve helped us reach out to disadvantaged students, and you’ve given them an opportunity for a first-rate education in an environment that promotes accountability, discipline and values. You’ve helped them understand that they can change their lives and their communities, and that an education really can provide them with the tools they’ll need for a better future.”

Speaking with The Pilot following the speaker program, Troy Brown, who is an ICSF board member, explained that his success in the National Football League was predicated on a $500 scholarship he received back in high school.

“Coming from humble beginnings, I also didn’t have a lot of money and lived in a single-parent household,” he said. “I planned to join the military until someone took a vested interest in me and gave me $500 to attend college.”

“I feel like it is my duty to give back, to not forget the places I’m from,” said Brown.

“I think a lot of these kids come from the same types of situations and live similar lives to what I lived growing up and can share in my story,” he added.

“That is why it’s important to me to be here, because education is the key,” he said. “All these kids want to be here--they want to learn, they want to be smart--and this is the best way to get ahead in life.”

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