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CEF breaks cycle of poverty with the gift of education

Master of ceremonies Christa Dubill of 41 Action News sits down with Angela Rodriguez and her daughters Michaela Valdivieso and Aliana Rodriguez to talk about what CEF has meant to them. PHOTO COURTESY OF THE CATHOLIC EDUCATION FOUNDATION

by Jill Ragar Esfeld

OVERLAND PARK — This year, the Catholic Education Foundation (CEF) provided scholarships enabling more than 1,400 students living in poverty to attend Catholic schools.

“Our students learn about Jesus every day,” said CEF board chair Derek Teeter as he welcomed patrons to the organization’s annual fundraiser, Gaudeamus.

“With your help,” he said, “we are bringing the word of Christ to these youth.”

Gaudeamus featured Christa Dubill, 41 Action News, as the master of ceremonies and proved to be worthy of its rating as one of the top five events in Kansas City. 

CEF executive director Vince Anch thanked attendees “on behalf of all the children and families you support.”

He also recognized Blake Mulvany, instrumental in the development of CEF, who passed away this past summer.

The event kicked off with a touching video featuring a family that fell on hard times and needed assistance to keep their children in Catholic school.

When the CEF offered scholarships, the children said their mother “cried so hard because she knew the scholarships would allow us to stay at Catholic school.”

In addition to giving disadvantaged youth a faith-based education, CEF-sponsored Catholic schools strive for excellence in academics that provide a pathway out of poverty.

On average, 97% of scholarship recipients attending Catholic high school go on to college, compared to only 47% in their local public schools.

That fact was illustrated when Bishop Ward High School student and CEF scholarship recipient Aliana Rodriguez told her story.

Rodriguez is actively involved in life at Bishop Ward in Kansas City, Kansas. She plays volleyball, basketball and softball; she is a member of the pep club and treasurer of her senior class.

She talked compassionately about her single mother working two jobs to afford a Catholic education for her and her siblings.

“She has never given up on her belief in Catholic education and the values it brings to life socially, academically and spiritually,” she said.

Rodriguez told the audience that without the generosity of CEF donors, she could not have attended Bishop Ward.

“The scholarship I received means the world to me,” she said. “It changed the course of my life.”

During her freshman year, Rodriguez was thrown into a crisis of faith when her younger brother Vincent died from complications after an asthma attack. 

“I cried and couldn’t eat,” she said. “And there were days I couldn’t talk.”

She then described the support her family received from their Catholic community, and especially the love and support she found at Bishop Ward.

“My counselor at Bishop Ward met with me daily,” she said. “It was with her help — as well as that of teachers, coaches and friends — that I was able to faithfully process my grief.”

Rodriguez will graduate this spring and is headed for college. She will be the first person in her family to get a college education.

“Each and every day, your generosity benefits many students like me,” she said.

Recognition was also given to former superintendent of Catholic schools, Dr. Kathy O’Hara, when she accepted the Michael & Patty Morrisey Angels Among Us Award.

St. Benedict School, Atchison, received the Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann CEF School of Excellence Award.

Though the archbishop couldn’t personally present the award this year, he made an appearance by video from a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

“Thank you for coming to Gaudeamus,” he said. “It’s always a fantastic and inspiring event.” 

Though far away, the archbishop assured the CEF supporters they were in his prayers.

“I pray that the Lord will bless this night,” he said, “and through your generosity, we’ll be able to give the gift of a Catholic education to many more young people.” 

The event raised $1.98 million, but the opportunity to give continues.

About the author

Jill Esfeld

Jill Ragar Esfeld received a degree in Writing from Missouri State University and started her profession as a magazine feature writer, but quickly transitioned to technical/instructional writing where she had a successful career spanning more than 20 years. She returned to feature writing when she began freelancing for The Leaven in 2004. Her articles have won several awards from the Catholic Press Association. Jill grew up in Christ the King parish in Kansas City, Missouri; and has been a member of Holy Trinity Parish in Lenexa, Kansas, for 35 years.

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