A little bit of money is paying big, heartwarming dividends at the only Catholic school in Chautauqua County. "It's a huge blessing for a little school," said Beth Quattrone, a trustee for Northern Chautauqua Catholic School in Dunkirk, which received a grant from the Foundation of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Buffalo for the current school year.
"This little grant has gone a long way to filling some of the gaps that we've discovered," said Quattrone, who wrote the grant and chose to give it the title Raising the Light. "We want to raise the light about all the wonderful things that are happening here, and raise the light on our faith so people can see that we are a school of choice, that we guide children through faith formation as well as rigorous academic programming."
Raising the Light works to strengthen the school's ability to carry out its mission for the Church by planning community service projects, building and sharing resources with local parishes, partnering with parents to understand their role as first educators in the Catholic faith, increasing vocational awareness among students and helping Catholic school teachers to promote faith formation in their classrooms.
Community service projects are broken down into a series of mini-grants, totaling about $50 each. Students and teachers formulate their own proposals for ways to benefit the community, according to Quattrone. "They have to come up with a list of materials they need, and ideas of how to go about formulating that project to make a difference in someone's life."
At the start of the school year, some of the funding was used to purchase brand new religious education books for the first time in several years. Closer to Christmas, students focused on poverty in their community through an Empty Bowls project and a Giving Tree in memory of Pamela Clemons, the teacher who initiated the idea of collecting hats and mittens for the less fortunate.
In January, students in grades five through eight made wooden ornaments and personally delivered them to military veterans at the Veteran Administration clinic near the school. "For a lot of years, our vets didn't get any recognition," said Steve Crane, who served as a missile technician in the U.S. Army in the early 1970s, and who attended Northern Chautauqua Catholic School in the 1960s. "When I got out, a lot of the vets from Vietnam, you never heard too much from anybody."
"The veterans like it when we do this," said Rayna Myers, an eighth-grade student, who carefully painted the image of the American flag on a small wooden butterfly. "It's a butterfly like flying over America, and it has the flag because of all the veterans who served our country. I hope they feel good about it. They served our country and they risked their lives for us."
There is a new project nearly every month of this school year. During Catholic Schools Week, a group of priests, nuns and deacons were invited into the classrooms to speak about their faith and explain what steps the students would need to follow to become a priest, nun or deacon. "We have very young children who express the desire," said Quattrone. "They want to become a priest or a nun, but they don't really know what to do next. Sometimes that vocation fades, and it's our job to make sure that it stays alive."
"This school is just such a special place with so many special children and adults," according to Kathy Stelmach, who is coordinating the Raising the Light grant. "The little things that we're doing mean so much to the children, the parents and the community."