Adopt-a-Student program helps donors ‘put a face’ to the impact of their gifts

Moira Cullings

As a child of eight who grew up in a lower income neighborhood in St. Louis, Joe Schmid understands how a Catholic education can open the door to greater opportunities.

“Even though money was tight, my parents felt it was important to provide us with a Catholic education,” said Schmid. “I believe that the Catholic education I received and the morals instilled in me at these schools are a big factor in my successes in life.”

Schmid and his wife, Becky, wanted to give to children in a similar situation, so they became sponsors for Adopt-a-Student, a Seeds of Hope program that pairs each donor with a student from an archdiocesan kindergarten through eighth grade school.

“There are many great charities and programs out there,” said Schmid. “This one called to me given the importance that a Catholic education played in my life.”

The program currently offers scholarships to students from the 10 schools Seeds of Hope serves.

I believe that the Catholic education I received and the morals instilled in me at these schools are a big factor in my successes in life.”

“The students with the greatest need are usually Adopt-a-Students because it’s the biggest scholarship that we offer,” said Jay Clark, Executive Director of Seeds of Hope.

The organization reviews applications for the scholarships to find the kids most in need, and it works with principals to make sure they’ve found the best matches. Students are also chosen based on parent involvement and commitment to their child’s education.

Although the scholarship is the largest offered by any Seeds of Hope Program, many donors are drawn to Adopt-a-Student and stick with their students through eighth grade because of the personal connection they feel.

Students send their donor a letter at the beginning of the school year introducing themselves and a thank you letter during the holidays. Teachers send donors a report of the students’ academic, spiritual and social growth at the end of the year. In the past, donors have also had the opportunity to meet with their student once during the year.

“That’s one of the cool parts about it — it really connects the donor directly with the student,” said Clark.

For donors like Schmid, those opportunities make the giving experience unique.

“It certainly increases my sense of satisfaction regarding our gifts,” said Schmid. “While not a primary reason for contributing, it is nice to ‘put a face’ on the money we are donating. Visiting the schools and the kids we are sponsoring lets us know that our donations are being used as we intended.”

The Schmid family began supporting students during the 2013-2014 school year. During the 2015-2016 school year, they began sponsoring two students, which they have continued to do ever since. This year, their students will be in first and sixth grades.

Adopt-a-Student “is very popular from the retention level we have,” said Clark. “We usually have at least 75 or 80 percent retention rate with the donors. I think it all goes back to that connection.

“After two or three years, the donors feel very invested in the kids,” he said. “It is definitely one of our more popular programs.”

And the need for continued support is there.

The average income of a family of four who receives the Adopt-a-Student scholarship is around $34,000, said Clark. But at the same time, those families are hard-working and involved in their children’s education.

“They’re invested, and they’re making tremendous sacrifices to send their kids to Catholic schools because they believe in the faith-based curriculum,” said Clark.

After two or three years, the donors feel very invested in the kids. It is definitely one of our more popular programs.”

“These folks who are in tough financial situations believe so much in the education that they’re willing to make that sacrifice.”

Although the program is flourishing with 100 adopted students this school year, Clark and his team have high hopes for the future.

“One thing we’ve learned in the process is there’s need all across the archdiocese,” said Clark. “I really hope that we can expand this program so that when somebody is in a community outside of the Greater Denver area, they can support a student in their own community, because the need is there.”

Schmid’s hope for the students he supports is that they receive the same benefits from their education that he did.

“Ultimately, I hope the education they receive and values they develop allow them to live meaningful and productive lives, and that one day, when their situation allows, they ‘pay it forward’ and try to make things better for others less fortunate,” he said.

To learn more, contact info@seedsofhopedenver.org or call (303) 715-3127.

COMING UP: Five Hispanic-American saints perhaps you didn’t know

Sign up for a digital subscription to Denver Catholic!

The American continent has had its share of saints in the last five centuries. People will find St. Juan Diego, St. Rose of Lima or St. Martin de Porres among the saints who enjoy greater popular devotion. Yet September, named Hispanic Heritage Month, invites a deeper reflection on the lives of lesser-known saints who have deeply impacted different Latin-American countries through their Catholic faith and work, and whose example has the power to impact people anywhere around the world. Here are just a few perhaps you didn’t know.

St. Toribio de Mogrovejo
1538-1606
Peru

Born in Valladolid, Spain, Toribio was a pious young man and an outstanding law student. As a professor, his great reputation reached the ears of King Philip II, who eventually nominated him for the vacant Archdiocese of Lima, Peru, even though Toribio was not even a priest. The Pope accepted the king’s request despite the future saint’s protests. So, before the formal announcement, he was ordained a priest, and a few months later, a bishop. He walked across his archdiocese evangelizing the natives and is said to have baptized nearly half a million people, including St. Rose of Lima and St. Martin de Porres. He learned the local dialects, produced a trilingual catechism, fought for the rights of the natives, and made evangelization a major theme of his episcopacy. Moreover, he worked devotedly for an archdiocesan reform after realizing that diocesan priests were involved in impurities and scandals. He predicted the date and hour of his death and is buried in the cathedral of Lima, Peru.

St. Mariana of Jesus Paredes
1618-1645
Ecuador

St. Mariana was born in Quito, modern-day Ecuador, and not only became the country’s first saint, but was also declared a national heroine by the Republic of Ecuador. As a little girl, Mariana showed a profound love for God and practiced long hours of prayer and mortification. She tried joining a religious order on two occasions, but various circumstances would not permit it. This led Mariana to realize that God was calling her to holiness in the world. She built a room next to her sister’s house and devoted herself to prayer and penance, living miraculously only off the Eucharist. She was known to possess the gifts of counsel and prophecy. In 1645, earthquakes and epidemics broke out in Quito, and she offered her life and sufferings for their end. They stopped after she made her offering. On the day of her death, a lily is said to have bloomed from the blood that was drawn out and poured in a flowerpot, earning her the title of “The Lily of Quito.”

St. Theresa of Los Andes
1900-1920
Chile

St. Theresa of Jesus of Los Andes was Chile’s first saint and the first Discalced Carmelite to be canonized outside of Europe. Born as Juana, the future saint was known to struggle with her temperament as a child. She was proud, selfish and stubborn. She became deeply attracted to God at the age six, and her extraordinary intelligence allowed her to understand the seriousness of receiving First Communion. Juana changed her life and became a completely different person by the age of 10, practicing mortification and deep prayer. At age 14, she decided to become a Discalced Carmelite and received the name of Theresa of Jesus. Deeply in love with Christ, the young and humble religious told her confessor that Jesus told her she would die soon, something she accepted with joy and faith. Shortly thereafter, Theresa contracted typhus and died at the age of 19. Although she was 6 months short of finishing her novitiate, she was able to profess vows “in danger of death.” Around 100,000 pilgrims visit her shrine in Los Andes annually.

St. Laura Montoya
1874-1949
Colombia

After Laura’s father died in war when she was only a child, she was forced to live with different family members in a state of poverty. This reality kept her from receiving formal education during her childhood. What no one expected is that one day she would become Colombia’s first saint. Her aunt enrolled her in a school at the age of 16, so she would become a teacher and make a living for herself. She learned quickly and became a great writer, educator and leader. She was a pious woman and wished to devote herself to the evangelization of the natives. As she prepared to write Pope Pius X for help, she received the pope’s new Encyclical Lacrymabili Statu, on the deplorable condition of Indians in America. Laura saw it as a confirmation from God and founded the Missionaries of the Immaculate Heart and St. Catherine of Siena, working for the evangelization of natives and fighting or their behalf to be seen as children of God.

St. Manuel Morales
1898-1926
Mexico

Manuel was a layman and one of many martyrs from Mexico’s Cristero War in the 1920s. He joined the seminary as a teen but had to abandon this dream in order to support his family financially. He became a baker, married and had three children. This change, however, did not prevent him from bearing witness to the faith publicly. He became the president of the National League for the Defense of Religious Liberty, which was being threatened by the administration of President Plutarco Elías Calles. Morales and two other leaders from the organization were taken prisoners as they discussed how to free a friend priest from imprisonment through legal means. They were beaten, tortured and then killed for not renouncing to their faith. Before the firing squad, the priest begged the soldiers to forgive Morales because he had a family. Morales responded, “I am dying for God, and God will take care of my children.” His last words were, “Long live Christ the King and Our Lady of Guadalupe!”