Since the pandemic hit, countless organizations have relied on donations and volunteerism to remain functional and stay afloat. This has been especially true for local schools as they learned to adapt to the new normal of broadscale online learning and the return of face-to-face classes for some students. Big Shoulders Fund has been a big part of keeping local Catholic schools well-stocked and supported since day one of COVID-19 and has continued to serve as a vital supporter for them.
“Oddly enough, when we first got into this back in March, it was the last day of school before the quarantine,” said Dan Kozlowski, Regional Director for Big Shoulders Fund’s Northwest Indiana Initiative. “We were out at a school painting a classroom and removing old textbooks as part of a give-back project. From there, we kind of sprung into action not really knowing what to expect from the pandemic or what the extent of it would be, but knowing that we wanted to do what we could to help ease the burden it presented.”
Big Shoulders Fund’s first effort to provide aid was to reach out to the principals at each of their schools.
“We immediately moved into lending operational support, inviting principals to share concerns, and finding out how we could be of as much help as possible,” Kozlowski said. “One of our biggest efforts was the implementation of an emergency scholarship fund, where principals could apply to receive funds for a family that needed financial support due to the effects of the pandemic.”
The emergency fund provided tuition support for families that had suffered from increased financial need during COVID-19, whether it was due to parents losing jobs or other causes. From the end of the school year to now, Big Shoulders Fund, with support from the Catholic Diocese of Gary provided over 200 families with help to lessen the financial burden of families effected by COVID-19.
“We left it in the hands of the principals to determine which families really needed the support, and just made sure that those families were covered through the end of the year as far as tuition goes,” Kozlowski said.
In addition to providing much-needed monetary aid, Big Shoulders Fund has continued to give back in other ways, such as gathering supplies to ensure that local catholic schools were fully stocked with the necessary tools for a healthy start to the year.
“We delivered signage promoting social distancing and proper handwashing to schools,” Kozlowski said. “The signs were placed throughout the building to make sure that all the kids, staff, and anyone in the building abide by social distancing and keeps those safety regulations in mind throughout the day.”
“We also provided hand sanitizers, gloves, and face masks as well, making sure schools had those items for material pick up days over the summer,” he said. “We made sure to give them ample supplies so that it could carry over to the start of the school year, and schools wouldn’t have to find a way to fend for themselves in the market place scrambling for supplies.”
Big Shoulders Fund, which was established in Chicago in 1986, has been serving Catholic schools in Northwest Indiana since October of 2019 thanks to a 10-year, $16 Million gift from Beth and Bruce White of White Lodging Services. Their continued support throughout the challenges of COVID-19 is a testament to their dedication to the schools they serve throughout the Catholic Diocese of Gary.
“The way I see it, we’ve really been in crisis mode for the last six months, finding ways to help on the forefront while also continuing our mission to grow Catholic schools here in Northwest Indiana and set them up for a bright future,” Kozlowski said. “Whether its financial support or providing supplies, all of these efforts right now are part of a larger effort to keep our Catholic schools open.”
“We’ve talked with a lot of principals and teachers, and they were so grateful to be back in the building with their students, but you can tell in their voice that they’re carrying a large burden in being responsible for every child in that building,” Kozlowski continued. “We’re here to do anything we can do to help ease that burden and make that happen safely. We are so proud of our principals and the way they’ve risen up to the challenges of COVID-19 to create a safe learning environment for our kids, and we’re proud to be a part of that.”
St. Casimir in Hammond has been working with Big Shoulders Fund since October 2019. Big Shoulders Fund has provided multiple resources to the school during COVID-19 to help them navigate these trying times.
"They offer a myriad of support systems to help schools enact change, support students, support families, and help build teacher and school leadership capacity," said Matt Chico, Principal of St. Casimir in Hammond. "The St. Casimir school community is very grateful for the support we receive from this amazing organization."
Natasha Magnuson, Principal at Notre Dame Catholic School in Michigan City, states the quick response from Big Shoulders Fund during the pandemic afforded assistance with online education, parent involvement, enrollment, and finances.
"No matter how big or small the task is, they are there to help. If they don’t have an immediate answer they will find it. Their support is unwavering. Notre Dame Catholic School is beyond grateful for the partnership formed with Big Shoulders Fund," she said. "Their dedication to our community and Catholic education shines through everything they do."
To learn more about Big Shoulders Fund, their mission, and how they continue to provide unwavering support to local Catholic schools, visit https://bigshouldersfund.org/.