The Nazareth Guild recently announced grants totaling more than $170,000 given to 15 Catholic schools in Eastern Washington funding everything from classroom equipment to a new roof.
The Nazareth Guild is an organization founded in 2010 by then Spokane Bishop Blasé Cupich as a way to raise money for Catholic schools, said executive director Alix Lee. It supports 12 kindergarten to eighth grade schools, three high schools and one K-6 school.
“The community of Spokane really appreciates the option of the Catholic school system,” Lee said.
Catholic schools do not get state funding for students and are entirely reliant on tuition and private funds. Since its inception, the Guild has awarded more than $5.5 million in grants and tuition assistance. Several different categories of grants are available, some requested by teachers and some requested by school principals.
The Bishop Brigade grants are for building improvements. This year just over $40,000 was allocated for things like gas furnaces at Holy Family, a new boiler control system at St. Aloysius and partial funding for a new gymnasium roof at St. John Vianney.
It’s not unusual for the Guild to be asked for heating system equipment, Lee said. “Our buildings are old,” she said. “Every year we get a desperate call from one school.”
The Guild may have awarded $40,000 in this category, but the schools requested more than $113,000. “The requested amount this year really outweighed what we had available,” she said.
The Guild also awards School Partnership grants that are intended for special projects. “We want you to think about how you can make your school excellent, not just keep the doors open,” she said.
There was $81,600 awarded in this category, with funding going for wireless display adapters for classroom projectors at Gonzaga Prep, an electric automated gate at St. Aloysius and a marketing campaign to increase enrollment at Tri-Cities Prep.
The list of awards in the final category, the Teacher Initiative grant, runs for 10 pages and totals $48,000. These grants, which have a maximum of $500, are requested by teachers. The Guild started awarding grants in this category three years ago, Lee said.
Lee, who was a teacher in California before moving to Spokane, also spent two years teaching fifth grade at Cataldo Catholic School. She said she saw firsthand how teachers were spending their own money on classroom supplies and created this grant program to alleviate that burden.
The items funded include things like a VR gaming headset, whiteboards, Wi-Fi routers, cameras, Chromebooks and a 3D printer. Lee said the Guild tries to focus on funding equipment rather than supplies that will be used up quickly. “We try not to do many consumable things because we want what we fund to have a lasting impact,” she said.
Some teachers request things like magazine subscriptions and extra curriculum to benefit their students. “Some of them support curriculum, but none of them are adopted,” she said. “They’re one-off.”
The Nazareth Guild gets most of its funding from a fundraiser hosted every October at Gonzaga University, the Celebration of Light. “We have very generous sponsors who underwrite the evening for us,” Lee said. “We raise the majority of our money that evening.”
Lee has also been known to work the phones, calling local businesses for a specific need that falls under their expertise. “I find it’s easier to ask for money when it’s something specific,” she said.
Each year the Guild board looks at the grant requests and the amount of money raised before deciding how much to award. “We sit down with all these grant applications and hope and pray we have enough,” she said.
In April the Guild will make decisions on tuition assistance grants. Families apply for the grants, which are ranked by order of need. The neediest families are helped first and the tuition assistance dispersed directly to the schools depends on how much is available. The Guild awarded $430,000 in tuition assistance in 2019, which was down from $545,000 awarded in 2018.
Catholic schools rely on student tuition to operate, but not all students can afford to pay the full amount, Lee said. “Contrary to what people think, you don’t have to be Catholic and you don’t have to be wealthy,” she said.
Even if every student paid full tuition it still wouldn’t be enough to keep the schools running, which is why the Nazareth Guild has a key role to play, Lee said. “The tuition for a student isn’t enough to educate that student,” she said.
Lee said she’d like to increase the visibility of the Nazareth Guild so more money can be raised to fund grants and tuition assistance. “This is my passion,” she said.
Subscribe to the Morning Review newsletter
Get the day’s top headlines delivered to your inbox every morning by subscribing to our newsletter.