NORWOOD PARK — Three months after getting a fundraising ultimatum that many said blindsided them, parents and supporters of St. Eugene School in Norwood Park have raised enough money to keep the school open for the rest of this year and 2021.
And now they are working on a plan to keep it open for good.
In November, the Archdiocese of Chicago informed parents at St. Eugene that $300,000 needed to be raised by the end of January or the school would be closed. The archdiocese agreed to kick in $50,000 but the rest was up to the parents, who despite being angered by what they said was a shock to them, went to work raising money.
Jim Graziano, who has two children at the school at 7930 W. Foster Ave., said the most important thing they have done is begin to develop a “Get Healthy” plan to ensure the school is open for more than one additional year.
“Nobody wants to do all this work to only be open one more year and then be back at square one,” he said.
He said to raise funds, parents put together a GoFundMe account, did a few fundraisers and reached out to larger private donors as well. They also met a 150-student enrollment goal for 2021, according to Graziano.
The “Get Healthy” plan being developed by the parents is designed to raise money and secure enrollment, much like a 5-year business plan, according to Dakota Shultz, a public relations business owner who has volunteered to help the St. Eugene parents.
Since December, school and parish families raised more than $200,000, developed a robust event calendar and built a website to showcase their efforts and expand engagement. Most critically, school leaders worked with the archdiocese so that prospective Catholic school parents can feel confident in sending their children to St. Eugene.
Susan Thomas, spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Chicago, said the school will remain open through the 2021 school year but could not say what would happen after that.
The parents say their next phase of their strategy is to implement a “Stay Healthy” plan featuring targeted outreach to prospective families. Following the plan, they will market the school in a way that showcases the community as true stakeholders in the future of Catholic education and create good governance structures to provide long-term continuity and growth.
Graziano said he hopes the archdiocese uses the St. Eugene parents’ plan of action as a blueprint for saving additional schools in the future.
“The hope is that they use St. Eugene as the blueprint for if you need to be saved, this is how you go about it.”