Calendar fundraiser to aid tuition assistance

Participating schools, parishes to benefit when sales begin in September; cash prizes included

By Bill Brewer

Father Chris Michelson, pastor of St. Albert the Great Parish and president of St. Joseph School, leads a meeting of Diocese of Knoxville school administrators in July at the Chancery to discuss the Catholic Schools Calendar Fund, a fundraiser for tuition-assistance funding that will be launched in September.

Would you support Catholic education for 10 cents a day?

The answer to that question is key to the success of a new fundraising program Diocese of Knoxville schools are launching in September to increase tuition-assistance funding for students in need.

If the answer is yes, then does the diocese have an offer for you.

Diocesan schools will introduce a calendar next month that, if sales are successful, could pump thousands of much-needed dollars into tuition assistance and at the same time benefit schools and parishes.

Those participating in the fundraiser can be rewarded while whetting their appetites for a new diocese-sponsored game of chance.

The program, which is based on the sale of 12-month calendars with a bit of a lottery twist, promises to be a hit with people who purchase one for $36.50 – 10 cents a day for a year.

Father Chris Michelson, pastor of St. Albert the Great Parish and president of St. Joseph School, brought the fundraising concept to the Diocese of Knoxville and has been trying for more than two years to make it work. He said it is patterned after similar fundraisers in other dioceses across the country.

But it’s the purpose that makes this fundraiser unique, according to Father Michelson and Sister Mary Marta Abbott, RSM, superintendent of diocesan schools.

And that purpose is to increase the pool of money that schools across the diocese rely on to offer tuition assistance to families struggling to pay the full cost of tuition.

Brainstorming ideas

Father Michelson said each October school administrators from around the diocese gather to discuss the Catholic Schools Regional Fund.

The discussion has been centered on how to meet the needs of all the requests for tuition assistance.

“Every year when we have those meetings in the fall, we go through the conversation of ‘we have to raise more money for the fund,’ because for three years now it has capped at about $1.6 million in assistance (for Knoxville region schools), which is a huge amount. But every year the amount needed is more. I think last year that amount needed was $2.3 million. That’s a $700,000 gap, and there are a lot of kids and families that we are not able to help as much as we want to,” he said.

“Every year we say ‘everybody go back and brainstorm ideas’ on how we can raise more money for the fund. That’s where we came up with the second collection for tuition assistance (Aug. 19-20 this year). I said, ‘we’re thinking small.’ It’s sad when you think $50,000 or $100,000 is small, but we had to have a bigger vision,” he added.

Father Michelson first introduced the idea two years ago at a meeting of diocesan priests, but he noted there was not a lot of excitement.

“After last year’s meeting, I said we have to do something. So I began doing some more research and I made a proposal to Sister Mary Marta and the bishop, and it just snowballed from there. The reaction was, ‘yes, we need to do this.’”

Father Michelson credited the idea to a family he knows who moved into the Diocese of Knoxville from Nebraska. As a gift, they gave him a calendar from a school in the Diocese of Lincoln with a similar theme.

He said he won about $50 from the calendar — and a diocesan-wide fundraiser was born.

Diocese of Knoxville schools and parishes will begin selling 2018 calendars this fall as a fundraiser for tuition-assistance funding. A committee composed of Father Chris Michelson, sitting center, Sister Mary Marta Abbott, RSM, sitting left, Joni Punch, sitting right, Diannah Miller, standing left, Dickie Sompayrac, standing center, and Andy Zengel, standing right, will oversee the new fundraising program.

An idea becomes reality

Turning the idea into reality proved complicated. The Tennessee Constitution, state laws, the office of the Tennessee Secretary of State, and the IRS were just a few of the hurdles.

But a change in a state law provided the diocese an opportunity to get the school calendars off the ground.

Nonprofit organizations now are able to have one game of chance per year after a state law was passed and the state constitution was changed to allow games of chance, which gave rise to the Tennessee Lottery.

Nonprofits apply through the office of the Secretary of State, which is what the diocese did. All valid requests are put into a bill that the legislature votes on to authorize them.

With only one state exemption allowing a game of chance available to the Diocese of Knoxville, the diocese opted to apply for an exemption for the school calendars program. That exemption was granted in March.

Father Michelson and Sister Mary Marta assembled a team to launch the calendars and administer the program. Serving on the schools calendar committee are Dickie Sompayrac, Andy Zengel, Marcy Meldahl, Diannah Miller, Joni Punch, and Father Michelson. Calendar sales will be processed through St. Albert the Great Parish.

The 10 diocesan schools — Notre Dame High School, St. Jude, and Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Chattanooga, St. Mary in Oak Ridge, St. John Neumann in Farragut, St. Dominic in Kingsport, St. Mary in Johnson City, and Sacred Heart, St. Joseph, and Knoxville Catholic High School in Knoxville — will begin selling the 2018 calendars on Sept. 5.

Since the fundraiser is for tuition assistance, the schools will offer the calendars first, in September and October. All diocesan parishes will then be able to join in and sell the calendars in November and December. Calendar sales will end Dec. 23.

How it works

In accordance with state law, Father Michelson said no one under the age of 18, including diocesan students, can sell the calendars. All sales transactions must be done by adults; however, students can promote the calendars.

Proceeds from the sale of the calendars will be divided among the schools, parishes, and the Regional Catholic Schools Tuition Support Fund in the four deaneries of the diocese.

Each school will keep $15 from every calendar it sells, and each parish will keep $15 from every calendar it sells. Schools and parishes will be encouraged to use the money to foster Catholic education. The remaining proceeds will fund the Regional Catholic Schools Tuition Support Fund.

Money raised from the sale of calendars in the Chattanooga Deanery will stay in that deanery, according to Father Michelson, who noted that the same applies to calendars sold in the Cumberland Mountain, Five Rivers, and Smoky Mountain deaneries.

And money raised through the sale of business sponsorships of the calendars will fund the $50,000 in prize money to be given away at a January drawing.

A sales goal of 25,000 calendars has been set for this first year, which Father Michelson believes is a reasonable benchmark given the number of schools and parishes and the fact there are between 22,000 and 23,000 households in the diocese.

Then there are potential calendar sales to people and organizations that aren’t part of the diocese. The St. Albert the Great priest envisions sales to families, friends, and businesses that may want to give them as Christmas gifts.

“We set as a goal to sell 25,000 calendars. If we do that, parishes and schools get $15 of every calendar sold, or $375,000. And $20 will go to the (tuition assistance) fund, give or take what our expenses are; so 25,000 times $20 is a half-million dollars. If you double that amount, you’re at a million dollars,” he said.

The diocesan priest sees the potential for significant growth of the fund if school and parish communities will get behind the sales. He cited the Diocese of Lincoln, which has been selling calendars for several years and has seen its proceeds from sales multiply.

He is confident that as word of the calendars and the cash drawings spreads, interest will rise – and so will sales in the years to come.

After sales for the 2018 calendars end on Dec. 23, the one-time drawing for cash prizes will be held at the Chancery on Jan. 3. Each calendar has a registration form for the calendar holder to fill out. These slips will be placed in a large drum at the Chancery, and 365 of them will be randomly selected, representing cash prizes for each day of the year.

People who participate can win $500 if the date their slip is picked with is one of several specially designated days like Ash Wednesday or All Saints Day. They can win $300 if the date their slip is picked with falls on special days like St. Patrick’s Day, Independence Day, or Grandparents Day. Slips accompanying Sundays are worth $250, and all other days are worth $100.

There is only one winner per calendar, and names cannot be returned to the drum for a repeat drawing. But individuals who purchase or are given more than one calendar will have more than one chance to win.

“It’s like giving someone 365 lottery tickets. It’s 365 chances to win $100 to $500. And people like (games of chance). Studies have shown we all like that chance to win,” Father Michelson said.

The entire process must adhere to strict state laws, regulations, and accounting practices. The Diocese of Knoxville’s external auditor, Brown, Jake & McDaniel, PC, will serve as auditor for the Catholic Schools Calendar Fund. The auditors also must be present at the official cash prize drawing to make sure the annual drawing adheres to regulations.

As the date for the launch of the calendar fundraising program nears, Father Michelson, Sister Mary Marta, and Bishop Stika are optimistic. But they know a lot is at stake.

What is at stake

Father Michelson said parishes, especially those with schools, are struggling to meet the demands for resources for tuition-assistance requests.

“I think the parishes feel tapped out. We’ve given what we can. We’ve come up with the $1.6 million (in the Knoxville region alone) between the different funding methods. It’s a lot of money every year. And that doesn’t count the standard parish subsidies and other ways parishes reach out and help us,” he said.

“I don’t think it’s an accident that as the need goes up every year and the amount stays the same, our enrollment is falling. I don’t know for sure that it is a correlation, but it’s a well-educated guess that the reason for falling enrollment in Catholic schools is our inability to keep up with the need to help families that are on that margin.”

Mr. Sompayrac, president of Knoxville Catholic High School, believes the program can be a game-changer for diocesan education.

“I really think this calendar raffle/ sale is a fundraising home run, and I think Father Chris Michelson deserves a lot of credit for coming up with this idea. We all know that folks in East Tennessee love a good raffle with lots of opportunities to win up to $500, but to know that 100 percent of the proceeds will be going to support Catholic schools and Catholic families in our area is really icing on the cake,” Mr. Sompayrac said. “For KCHS, these fundraising dollars will be critical in our efforts to keep the very best teachers here while also keeping tuition increases to a minimum.”

Mr. Zengel, principal of St. Joseph School in Knoxville, believes the calendar fundraiser is a good idea whose time has arrived.

“Our enrollment at St. Joseph has been growing over the last five years, but so has the need for tuition support. Last year, over half of our families were awarded need-based scholarships to attend St. Joseph School. Through the tuition-support fund, generous corporate sponsors and special fundraisers like the Sister Jolita Supper, we are able to match resources with need. This is the very heart of the mission of Catholic education — to bring the truth and beauty of our faith to families who desire it but might not be able to afford it,” Mr. Zengel said. “The calendar raffle will extend our ability to serve more families in this situation. We are very excited. The calendar raffle is one of those programs that immediately strikes you as a good idea.”

Bishop Stika is hopeful the Catholic schools calendars will help solve the growing dilemma for the diocese: how to extend tuition assistance to more students amid limited funding.

“The primary purpose here should not be to see if individuals can make some money, but a way that we can support Catholic education.

We’re giving away about $4 million a year in scholarships, grants, and gifts to families needing tuition support. We want to make sure that those who wish to have a Catholic education can, that it’s feasible to do so,” Bishop Stika said.

The bishop noted that there are some people who continue to give to Catholic schools long after they and their children have been in school because they have benefited from a Catholic education. He said they weren’t financially rewarded for doing so because they were doing it as a gift for vocations. He hopes many people will share that same spirit by purchasing calendars.

“I heartily support this. I’m going to buy some calendars and give them as Christmas gifts instead of giving something from Amazon, or gift cards, or gifts nobody is ever going to use. This supports Catholic education, and if somebody wins something, that is good as well,” he said.

The bishop noted the Diocese of Lincoln has raised millions of dollars with its calendar fundraiser, and if the Diocese of Knoxville can do partly as well, then more families will be helped through need-based scholarships.

He said studies show that when a good Catholic education is provided, individuals and families become strengthened in their faith, which typically grows into a long-term relationship with God and the Church.

For families who may not know about the diocese’s Catholic education ministry, Sister Mary Marta wants the calendars to serve as an introduction to all 10 schools and hopefully be incentive for families to send their children to one, even if the cost of tuition seems out of reach.

That is why the Regional Catholic Schools Tuition Support Fund is so critical, as is its growth.

Sister Mary Marta said the need for supplemental tuition support over the past five years has grown more than 30 percent. And $3.8 million was given in tuition support to families this past year — a record amount.

“Families have to make sacrifices to send their children to Catholic schools. This is a way for families to afford for their children to have a Catholic education. The hope is that this first year will be a success, and we’ll be able to do it year after year and the funding will increase each year,” said Sister Mary Marta, who credited Father Michelson for making the fundraising idea a reality.

“We’ve been looking for new sources of money for tuition assistance. Our hope for creating the calendar fundraiser is to bring more money into the needs-based scholarship fund,” she said. “We only have so much money to give. But the need is greater than the amount we have. Support from parishioners and the community helps to make a Catholic school education a reality for children most in need.

With their help, additional children will experience the spiritual and academic advantages of a Catholic school education.” ■

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