West End center aims to aid more children

Becky Henle, right, director of secondary education at Community Catholic Center and former principal of Assumption High School, assisted Robert Jecker, a seventh-grader at St. James School, with his homework, as his mother, Missy Downs, looked on. (Record Photo by Jessica Able)

Becky Henle, right, director of secondary education at Community Catholic Center and former principal of Assumption High School, assisted Robert Jecker, a seventh-grader at St. James School, with his homework, as his mother, Missy Downs, looked on. (Record Photo by Jessica Able)

By Jessica Able, Record Staff Writer

The Community Catholic Center (CCC), with the Catholic Education Foundation (CEF), aims to double the number of students it helps by the start of the 2017-2018 academic year.

The center, located on the former St. Cecilia Church campus, helps families in West Louisville send their children to Catholic schools by offering tuition assistance and support services, such as tutoring. It currently serves 48 students in prekindergarten to 12th-grade who attend seven Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Louisville and  Southern Indiana.

The CCC opened in 2003 after the last Catholic school in West Louisville closed. It was born from the closure of Community Catholic School, a regional school created in 1971 by the closure of St. Cecilia, St. Anthony and Our Lady schools. Louisville’s West End is generally characterized as west of Ninth Street and north of Algonquin Parkway.

To increase enrollment to 100 students in the next three years, the center plans to aid 60 students this fall and 80 students for the 2016-2017 school year, said Heidi Imberi-Hamilton, executive director of the CCC.

“We’ve always known there are more children in this area that need to be helped. But, for a lot of factors, we weren’t ready to make that step. The biggest one is funding. There is only so much money we can work with,” she said in a recent interview.

Imberi-Hamilton said the new Catholic Elementary School Plan, which was announced last fall by the CEF and the Archdiocese of Louisville, may help change that.

The plan calls, in part, for a new tuition assistance program described by Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz as “a preferential option for the poor.” It provides a $1,000 tuition discount for one child and a $500 discount for each additional child for
families whose income doesn’t meet a minimum threshold.

For the 2015-2016 school year, that threshold is 200% of the federally-designated poverty rate. The 2014 poverty rate for a family of four was an annual income of $23,850, as reported in a Nov. 20, 2014, Record story.

Overall, the new school plan aims to double the amount of aid available to families seeking Catholic education.

The CCC is spreading the word in West Louisville with flyers bearing the slogan “Every Child Deserves a Great Education … We Can Help!” It was distributed to businesses in Portland, the Neighborhood House, and all the Region 1 parishes, which include Christ the King, Good Shepherd, Immaculate Heart of Mary, St. Augustine, St. Martin de Porres and St. William churches.

Father John Burke, pastor of Good Shepherd and sacramental moderator of St. William, said many of his parishioners are interested but remain uncertain about how the CCC and the CEF can help them.

“Being ‘affordable’ for someone in the Highlands might be different than for someone here,” he noted.

He also praised the center, which he said, provides a stable presence and reassures families that the center will accompany them through the Catholic school journey.

“There are a lot of kids who need a lot more support in terms of tutoring and counseling, besides just tuition assistance,” he noted. “They (the CCC staff) are providing an important service in an area that is very much underserved.”

Richard Lechleiter, president of the CEF, noted that the CEF and the CCC have worked together to aid families in West Louisville for years. He spoke to families recently at St. Martin de Porres and Immaculate Heart of Mary churches about how the new plan can help families that struggle to afford Catholic school tuition.

“The CEF has been supporting Community Catholic Center students for a long time. Many, if not all of the students, receive some assistance from the foundation,” he said in a recent phone interview. “We’ve encouraged them to reach out to more families in Portland and West Louisville, to be more aggressive.”

He said that more robust marketing efforts are needed in the West End, because many residents aren’t “as aware of the Catholic brand and the quality of that brand.”

Father John Judie, pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary and Christ the King parishes, attended one of Lechleiter’s presentations. He noted that, while there wasn’t a large audience, those who attended provided insight into the challenges posed by Catholic schools.

“One of the parents at the information session spoke strongly about how transportation is the biggest obstacle. (She said) if that could be solved, people would be lining up to fill out applications,” he noted in an interview last week.

With the loss of Catholic schools in the West End, Father Judie said, some parishioners have the feeling that the church “doesn’t care if our kids get a Catholic education.”

“It’s baggage that needs to be overcome. I believe it can be overcome,” he said. “But, we at least need to acknowledge it’s there and do something to address it.”

Imberi-Hamilton of the CCC said that another challenge that families have mentioned in the past is the process of applying for aid.

“One barrier families find is understanding why they need to disclose tax information; that can be unnerving,” she said.

The center is reaching out to the younger siblings of students enrolled in Nativity Academy at St. Boniface, which is currently a middle school.

“These families are already filling out the PSAS (Private School Aid Service forms) and understand what a Catholic education requires. You’ve already taken away a lot of the barriers,” she noted. The PSAS is an independent, third-party organization that assesses the ability of families to pay tuition.

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