by Jill Ragar Esfeld
OVERLAND PARK — Put on your dancing shoes!
It’s hard to believe that Gaudeamus, the Catholic Education Foundation (CEF) annual fundraiser, could improve; after all, Independent magazine has named it a Top Ten party event in Kansas City.
But this year, because past attendees have requested it, an after-party with live dance music has been added to cap off the evening.
“There’s some strategy behind that,” said CEF executive director Vince Anch. “It gives me, my staff and our board a chance to reach out, thank people in person and get to know them.”
The after-party is new, but the traditional elements that have made Gaudeamus a hugely successful event are returning, including dinner, inspirational music, motivational videos and live audience interviews.
And, of course, students from CEF schools will be involved in every aspect of the evening.
“We have another great student speaker who is a senior at Bishop Ward,” said Anch. “We’re excited about her story.”
Christ the King School in Kansas City, Kansas, will be honored as the winner of the 2018 Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann CEF School of Excellence award.
And another evening highlight will be the recognition of this year’s “Michael and Patty Morrisey Angels Among Us” honorees: past CEF board chairs Joan Wells and Hamp Henning, along with their spouses Glenn Wells and Nikki Henning.
“We have one of the top boards in the Kansas City area when it comes to nonprofits,” said Anch. “Both Hamp and Joan have proved to be amazing leaders in offering their time, talent and treasure.
“They, as well as their spouses, are very supportive.”
For their part, the Hennings and Wells are surprised and humbled by the honor.
During a visit to this year’s School of Excellence, Archbishop Naumann thanked the couples for accepting the spotlight.
“We appreciate you doing this,” he said. “Hopefully, your passion and your love for the organization will help other people to become involved.”
As far as the past board chairs are concerned, the CEF’s mission of providing scholarships to underprivileged children wanting a Catholic education is an easy sell.
“We’re trying to help people understand what an amazing organization this is, how easy it is to get involved and how easy it is to see the impact,” said Joan. “It’s such a clear and stream-lined mission.”
“It’s a mission everybody can understand and relate to,” he said. “The ripple effect of a scholarship in one kid’s life, their family and the community is unbelievable.”
The Hennings have been involved with CEF since its beginning.
When the Morriseys first took over the original Gardner Plan and were building it into CEF, they recruited the couple as volunteers.
“When Michael (Morrisey) first started as executive director he was looking for anybody who would help out,” said Hamp. “I got involved on the board then.
Morrisey had a gift for recognizing the talents in people and putting them to use.
“Nikki and I were laughing about all the stuff we’ve done,” said Hamp. “He was very good at getting the right people and putting the right task in front of them.”
Parishioners of Curé of Ars Parish in Leawood, the Hennings home school their four children, but still think it’s important to support the Catholic schools in our archdiocese.
“We’re doing Catholic education, just in a different way,” said Nikki. “Not everybody can home school.
“We want to support people who want to send their kids to Catholic school and can’t afford it.”
The Wells, charter members of St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Leawood, both received public school educations. But they have learned the value of Catholic schools through the experiences of their three children.
“We are so blessed,” said Joan. “We had the inspiration to provide all three of our kids with Catholic education from kindergarten through college.”
They believe every family should be able to do the same, regardless of their financial status.
To that end, Joan served on the CEF board for 10 years.
“I feel really grateful to be part of such a wonderful organization,” she said. “We’ve met so many really inspiring and lovely people through our involvement with CEF — people committed to the same mission.”
Visiting the School of Excellence allowed them to see the fruits of their efforts.
“Just seeing those kids and how excited they were about being at that school,” said Glenn, “they were thanking us and I felt like thanking them.”
Because of their long and involved experience with CEF, these couples know how much a single donation can impact the life of a child.
“The board and administration are incredible stewards of the donations,” said Hamp. “I’ve seen that firsthand.
“They squeeze every bit of use out of every dollar that comes in for kids and families.”