BOSTON -- Every school day, students at Sacred Heart School in Roslindale don their uniforms and prepare themselves to learn. Led by principal Monica Haldiman, the students in grades K-0 through 8 are taught to "Dream Big," as the school's motto asserts.
For 139 of these students, this would not be possible without the Inner City Scholarship Fund (ICSF). The ICSF provides partial scholarships to these students, 73 percent of whom come from single-parent households.
On April 14, the ICSF held its 26th Annual Dinner Celebration at the Marriott Copley Hotel in Boston. The event, attended by over 1,000 people, helped raise over $3.15 million, according to Gina Rindfleisch, development officer of the Catholic Schools Foundation, the organization that oversees the ICSF.
Attendees of the dinner were greeted by students from seven different area Catholic schools who set up displays to show off some of their academic accomplishments. A dance team made up of students from Our Lady of Perpetual Help Mission Grammar School performed for the dinner guests.
Heather Unruh, co-anchor of WCVB, served as the master of ceremony for the evening.
"There's a lot of excitement in the room and we are very happy for that," began Michael Reardon, director of the Catholic Schools Foundation.
He spoke of the impact the ICSF has had helping low-income students develop their potential in Catholic schools.
"In these scholars we see the hope, we see the opportunity, we see the potential," he said. "We see your generous support come to fruition."
Before guests began dinner, Msgr. Francis Kelly, pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Roslindale, delivered the invocation. He asked everyone for a moment of silence to remember two benefactors who have passed away in 2015: Carolyn Lynch, who together with her husband Peter began the ICSF and chaired the organization for 20 years, and Tom Stemberg, founder of Staples, who was a donor and supporter of the ICSF.
Msgr. Kelly also asked for attendees to "offer a prayer -- a Thanks prayer -- for the wonderful, professional people who are teaching in our schools."
"Most teachers and principals are not clergy. They are not religious anymore. This is the new world of Catholic education," he said. "Teachers are our major asset. Without them we have nothing. May we give thanks to these men and women who teach our young people," he said.
After guests had finished their dinner, Alex Lopez and Sandra Abrego, parents of two ICSF scholarship recipients, took to the podium and spoke of the impact the ICSF has had on their family.
"It is an honor for us to be here with you, because like you we value Catholic education," Lopez said. He spoke of how 20 years ago he left a tiny village in El Salvador in search of a better life. He settled in East Boston, where he met and married his wife, Sandra. The couple now has two daughters -- Shadi, a freshman at St. Joseph's Preparatory School in Brighton and Daniella, a kindergartener at East Boston Central Catholic School.
"Catholic schools not only teach our daughters how to be excellent students, but they instill in them values such as faith, family and the importance of knowing God," Lopez said. "We strongly believe Catholic schools have made a big difference in their lives."
"Thank you for your support of our dreams, and the dreams of thousands of other families supported through the Inner City Scholarship Fund," he concluded.
Sandra Abrego then introduced Jasselis Lopez, a senior at Fontbonne Academy in Milton.
Lopez spoke of how, at age 5, she and her grandmother moved from New York to Dorchester. She was enrolled in the public schools, where she was mercilessly bullied.
By the time Lopez was in the sixth grade, the bullying worsened -- threatening phone calls were left at her home, she was verbally assaulted at school.
"I did not want to return to the nightmare public school had become," she recalled.
It was then that Lopez's grandmother first heard of the Hispanic Recruitment Initiative, an initiative of the Catholic Schools Foundation to encourage Hispanic students to enroll in Catholic schools.
She enrolled Lopez at Sacred Heart School in Roslindale.
"It was a very risky choice because she did not have the money to support us and a Catholic education," Lopez said. "But Sacred Heart changed me for the better. I learned to respect and believe in myself."
Because of the scholarship she received through the ICSF, Lopez was able to graduate salutatorian from Sacred Heart School and was awarded a merit scholarship to Fontbonne Academy in Milton.
"Over the past four years I have grown immensely. I am now a young woman not afraid to speak up or to be different," she said, noting that she was accepted to 10 colleges and universities.
"I am truly blessed to be here to be able to say, 'Thank you.' You have given me, and thousands of others like me, the ability to follow my dreams and passions and all I can say is, 'Thank you, thank you, thank you."
The ISCF Dinner Celebration was chaired by Brian Moynihan, CEO of Bank of America. Moynihan was introduced by Peter Lynch, vice chairman of Fidelity Investments and founder of the ICSF.
"I know what Catholic education can do," Moynihan said. "It can have an impact on a child. Fifty years ago, a young kid who was too small, a young kid who was 6 out of 8 kids, a young kid who wanted to get out of his house, put his clothes on and walked down to St. Mary's in Ohio.
"And now, 50 years later, I'm here today chairing a dinner to raise money for Catholic education," he added. "I did this because I believe in Catholic education and I know you believe in Catholic education and that you'll be here next year because you believe in Catholic education. And the year after that, and the year after that."
Following Moynihan's address, Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley presented Ted Kelly, retired chairman of Liberty Mutual Insurance with the Carolyn and Peter Lynch Award for his "personal support and leadership of our work as a member of the executive council and as a former Dinner chair," according to the program.
"I'm a product of Catholic schools and I believe very fundamentally in it," Kelly began. He spoke of the great personal significance receiving the first Carolyn and Peter Lynch Award since Carolyn's "untimely" death, since he and his wife are friends with the Lynch family.
"As we heard from the family and from the student and from these beautiful dancers, the success is real," he said. "So how could I say no to being honored and help raise some money for this extraordinary work being done by the Inner City Scholarship Fund?"
The evening concluded with an address from Brian McSherry, a "Young Leader," the title given to young business people who are beginning to get involved in the ICSF.
"It's been a privilege to play a part in tonight's dinner," he said. He noted that the Young Leaders helped raise $100,000 "but more importantly each of us developed a deeper understanding of the meaningful role this organization and the scholarships play in the future of so many deserving children."
"With a 99 percent graduation rate, these scholarships are changing the lives and transforming the futures of thousands of low-income children in our community," McSherry said.
Speaking with The Pilot following the dinner, James Ronan, senior vice president at Morgan Stanley, praised the work of the ICSF.
"This is the most worthwhile charitable event in Boston every year," he said. "Every year when you walk out of the elevator and there are students there to greet you -- and they are all there with smiles on their faces, and all so well-spoken -- it really helps you to see that you are making an actual difference in these children's lives."