New President of Cristo Rey Fort Worth aims to instill in students a passion for giving back

North Texas Catholic
(Apr 15, 2024) Local

The new President of Cristo Rey Fort Worth Dani Ray Barton stands against her desk at her campus office. (NTC/Richard Rodriguez)

FORT WORTH — Dani Ray Barton’s passion for Cristo Rey Fort Worth High School is contagious, and now she’s perfectly positioned to further the unique work-study, college prep-focused campus in helping students with limited economic means become men and women of faith, purpose, and service.

Last month, Barton was named President of Cristo Rey Fort Worth (CRFW) after serving as interim president for the past year.

In her previous role, she was in charge of the corporate work-study program, which she led since the campus opened in 2018. But she joined the CRFW team in 2016 to lead the school’s feasibility study after Bishop Michael Olson contacted the Chicago headquarters because he believed the school would benefit the community.

“There is not a single employee that has been with the organization longer than Dani Ray,” said Stephen O’Neal, Chair of the Cristo Rey Fort Worth Board of Directors.

Barton knows CRFW from every facet: the work-study program, fundraising, finances, faculty and staff, and the students in the school, O’Neal said.

‘Her passion shines through’

Besides her thorough knowledge of the school, Barton stood out as the best candidate because of her passion.

“That passion allows her to go out to work-study partners — current or prospective — or donors — current or prospective — and they can see that and catch it too,” O’Neal said. “Her passion shines through.”

Barton first tapped into that passion as a student at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee. She began volunteering as a coach for basketball and soccer at a small, urban Catholic high school in Memphis.

The new President of Cristo Rey Fort Worth Dani Ray Barton greets a guest at her campus office. (NTC/Richard Rodriguez)

Post-graduation, she worked for 10 years as an administrator at a Memphis Catholic middle and high school.

She saw that many of the students didn’t have the same opportunities that she had.

“I had access to a great high school education and college, but not all students have that opportunity,” she said. “It’s really driven me to see a positive impact on a daily basis.”

She credits “one of those God things” with providing the Cristo Rey feasibility coordinator position when she moved to North Texas from Memphis to get married.

Goal of giving back

Cristo Rey’s unique model includes a rigorous college preparatory program and a work-study component where businesses and organizations contribute to students’ tuition. This allows students who might otherwise not be able to afford a private education the opportunity to attend the school while gaining valuable work experience.

When CRFW opened in 2018, the school had close to 70 students. Next year, they’ll have 275, with plans over the next three years to grow to about 400 students, Barton said.

Members of that inaugural class are now sophomores in college, with more than 92 percent currently enrolled.

The Corporate Work-Study Program began with 20 companies and now has 70 partners.

“Ninety percent of those founding partners are still with us today,” Barton said. “It says a lot about the corporate and business community of Fort Worth and Tarrant County that they really want to lift up the communities they work and live in.”

Barton said that students learn that the corporate work partners are investing in them, even before they know the students, and the teens develop their own goals of giving back to the community.

“This model gives students direction,” she said. “You can have good accountants and attorneys, but if they don’t want to turn around and help their neighbor, we’re not fulfilling our mission.”

Barton said she’s most excited about seeing the future unfold for CRFW grads beyond college.

“I’m really looking forward to seeing it be lived out in those students as kids graduate from college and enter the workforce,” she said. “All they needed was access to opportunity, and now they’re living it out.”

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