Before Bruce and Beth White stepped to the dais inside St. Casimir School on Tuesday, a student choir serenaded a crowd of Diocesan leaders, Big Shoulders Fund administrators, and media with the popular song, "They'll Know We Are Christians By Our Love."
"Wow! That took me back to my days in Catholic schools," she said with an energy that inspired a second ovation for the young vocalists.
For Mrs. White, the hymn was a blast from the past. The words that followed were harmonic to the future of Catholic education across Northwest Indiana.
The Bruce and Beth White Family Foundation pledged a $16 million gift over 10 years to Big Shoulders Fund, a charitable organization that lends support to elementary schools and high schools that serve students from low-income upbringings.
"The missions of Big Shoulders Fund and the Catholic Diocese of Gary align in our passionate commitment to educational excellence. We know that education is a critical economic driver and the potential to powerfully impact communities. Ultimately, the presence of Big Shoulders Fund will make a positive impact on the long-term viability of Catholic schools in the region, thus preserving choice for thousands of families," Dr. Joseph J. Majchrowicz, Superintendent of Schools for the Catholic Diocese of Gary said.
For Big Shoulders Fund, a Chicago-based group, Tuesday's generous gift brought them into uncharted territory. However, whether it's the Land of Lincoln or the Hoosier State, their focus knows no borders: provide a quality, values-based education for children.
Big Shoulders Fund's curriculum vitae speaks for itself. Since its inception in 1986, the Joseph Cardinal Bernardin-inspired group has raised over $340 million, supported 75 Chicago-area schools, and served over 20,000 students. By focusing on four paramount areas - scholarships and enrichment, academic programs, leadership development, and operational improvements - Big Shoulders Fund has assisted partner schools in consistently outperforming local and national averages in elementary reading and mathematics.
The White Family and Big Shoulders Fund earmarked 10 elementary and high schools across the Diocese to receive immediate operational support and academic programming assistance: St. Casimir School (Hammond), Bishop Noll Institute (Hammond), St. John the Baptist Catholic School (Whiting), St. Stanislaus School (East Chicago), St. John Bosco School (Hammond), St. Thomas More School (Munster), Our Lady of Grace School (Highland), St. Mary School (Crown Point), Aquinas Catholic Community School (Merrillville), and Andrean High School (Merrillville).
While the initial direct aid is concentrated in Lake County, supplemental support will strengthen Diocesan institutions across the entire region in the form of professional development. Big Shoulders Fund's Leadership Development Programs (LDP) and Teacher Development Programs (TDP) enable participants to receive tuition assistance toward a master's degree, and engage in ongoing training and mentoring.
In total, 20 Catholic schools serving nearly 6,000 students will benefit from the White Family's landmark contribution. Currently, 14 of Marquette's 20 full-time teachers possess advanced degrees. A forward-thinking and empathetic staff help set the school apart from peer institutions.
The third verse of "They'll Know We Are Christians By Our Love" begins with "We will work with each other, we will work side by side."
Following classroom visits and a Q&A session, Bruce and Beth White departed St. Casimir School alongside Big Shoulders Fund officials and Diocesan leadership. The work had just begun.