Gratitude and Giving: Annual Diocesan Appeal creates a wave of support for schools and parishes
FORT WORTH- Answering the call for sacrificial giving is never easy, and yet in the Diocese of Fort Worth, the faithful demonstrated they truly understand Jesus’s testament to “love one another as I have loved you” as the flock’s donations to the 2022-2023 Annual Diocesan Appeal exceeded its goal by more than $100,000.
“This year, the parishes practiced what they preach,” Rachel Martinez, Advancement Foundation director of annual giving and grants said. “Our area is amazing.”
With an appeal fund of $3.6 million to work with, the donations will assist with the needs of many in communities throughout the diocese who are in great need, including 36 parishes and 9 schools. The Annual Diocesan Appeal also supports formation for seminarians and deacons; respect life, campus, and prison ministries; care for retired priests, and more.
PARISH AND PANTRY
Incredibly grateful that St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Fort Worth was a selected recipient of the grant, Pastor Fr. Thu Nguyen plans to use the allotted $30,000 to help maintain its basic operation and support the parish’s food pantry ministry.
One of 32 parishes to require assistance with salary support, the director of liturgical services for the diocese explained that in his parish, “For our average weekly [collection], we need $5,500, but we only collect maybe $4,500 or less than that.”
Additionally, when the Vietnamese, English, and Spanish-speaking pastor arrived at St. Paul Parish last July, he found that the Hispanic-majority parish of 300 families was about $65,000 in debt and had deteriorating pews and broken air-conditioning units.
“Last winter, we worshipped on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day in the cold because the boiler was frozen… and when I first came in July, the church air conditioning didn’t work, so even when Bishop [Olson] came in July for confirmation, it was hot in the church,” he recalled.
With these dilemmas hard at hand, Fr. Nguyen made quick work of applying for a parish grant. He then put projects to fix the pews and air conditioning into motion. Fortunately, an extremely generous donation from a parishioner at his former parish, St. Jude in Mansfield, helped cover a significant portion of the approximate $170,000 project costs. As for the remaining debt, along with the old deficit that had accumulated before his arrival, Fr. Nguyen and his parish are still working on paying it off.
“We had a parish festival last year with certain small food and sales and those kinds of things,” Fr. Nguyen said. He hopes these budding fundraising events will continue to help shave off the debt as the diocesan appeal grant restrictions do not allow its funds to cover expenses outside those listed in the initial request.
And yet, Fr. Thu and his parish remain grateful.
“Thank God the diocese considered to help us with operating costs and continuing the food pantry at least this year,” Fr. Thu said. “The mobile food pantry is once a month on Saturday, and then every Tuesday, we have a food pantry for people to come in and receive food.”
Running the food pantry is an important ministry for the parish, and “with the grant from the annual appeal, it will really help us for at least a year or so,” Fr. Nguyen said.
To the many donors of the diocese who made this grant possible, Fr. Nguyen said, “We are thankful for our brother and sister churches helping St. Paul the Apostle Catholic Church.”
Even as St. Paul the Apostle was one of thirty-six parishes to receive the appeal grant, nine of the diocese’s Catholic schools also received support from the diocesan appeal.
SUPPORT FOR STUDENTS
All Saints Catholic School in Fort Worth, which serves about 115 students, received $22,000 from this year’s Diocesan Appeal Fund. The school’s principal Dr. Arica Prado said the grant will “fully fund our learning support coordinator.”
Lillian Oexmann, learning support coordinator, describes her job as one with “a lot of little hats. One is to be a liaison for Literacy United,” which is a nonprofit entity that offers educational support services to schools following a mission to reach economically disadvantaged students struggling in the core subjects of English and math.
All Saints currently has five Literacy United tutors.
“Lillian is on staff with Literacy United, so when she’s not working with us, she’s working with them as she oversees the Literacy United tutors we have here on campus,” Dr. Prado mentioned. “[The tutors] who are here pretty often do pull-out intervention groups.”
Another one of Oexmann’s hats is to “help develop and implement the student support plans which they need if a student has been diagnosed with dyslexia or ADHD or has some kind of medical issue that they need specialized accommodations for, like using the elevator,” Oexmann explained.
After the pandemic and remote schooling, Dr. Prado and her staff saw the need to provide diagnostic testing for her school’s students. All Saint’s partnership with Literacy United allows both English and Spanish-speaking students to receive an initial learning disability diagnosis within a week instead of having to wait through a backlog of six to nine months in the nearby public school districts, Dr. Prado said.
“Because we’ve been able to have Lillian in her position, and we’re able to get the children tested faster, we’ve been able to get a diagnosis on the kids faster, which means we have [been able to meet the] dramatic increase of students with learning needs coming out of COVID times,” Dr. Prado said. “We have about 20 students receiving math and reading intervention services and nine that have a formal diagnosis of dyslexia.”
Oexmann also works with students who need speech therapy and behavioral support. Dr. Prado said she works with “about 30 to 35 students that have a learning support plan of some kind.”
With the grant helping fund her position, Oexmann, a trained dyslexia therapist, can “begin to supplement and support the students here at our school. Part of the funds [from the grant] are going to help support the materials that she needs… which will be about $350 for the actual tools she’ll use for the intervention services,” Dr. Prado added.
In the past year, Oexmann has seen progress in students at All Saints with their classic learning program and field tests. She has noticed that students are not “depending so much on their accommodation and becoming more self-confident as they know how to advocate for themselves, knowing if an accommodation isn’t working so well for them anymore.”
Dr. Prado, whose son was diagnosed with dyslexia when he was in third grade right before COVID hit, witnessed firsthand just how important the new initiatives that come with Oexmann’s work at the school really are.
With the Literacy United program’s arrival, her son was able to attend summer intensive help, and “In the last two years, he’s been able to receive speech [therapy] here at school under the plan he has with Lillian. He’s also been able to receive one-on-one dyslexia therapy after school, which I think is huge within our Catholic schools because normally we can provide reading and math intervention pull-outs during the day, but we don’t typically have funding to be able to provide that dyslexia therapy at no charge to our parents.”
Dr. Prado continued, “Because of [one-on-one intervention], I’ve definitely seen him be more confident in reading and an increase in his vocabulary… and after two years of this work, he recently exited our speech program since he has been able to master his speech field. He’s just become a confident reader.”
This summer, the school provided another free enrichment program like the one her son attended, with about 30 students receiving math and reading practice on campus throughout June. The program begins again on August 15 and will continue into the school year.
To the faithful donors of the diocese who selflessly contributed toward the Diocesan Appeal, Dr. Prado, on behalf of All Saints, said, “We are so appreciative and full of gratitude for the support to continue helping our students, especially our students with needs, within our Catholic schools… We could not do what we’re able to do and instill Catholic education and Catholic virtues and morals in our students if we did not have the support of our donors.”