Celebrating Our Shared Values: Unity through Faith and Relationship Building
Written by Steve McClure on Tuesday, 30 April 2019.
“It’s all about relationships.”
There probably isn’t a single word or phrase uttered more frequently than this one is at the Catholic School Advantage’s Latino Enrollment Institute (LEI) and Adelante conference each summer. One may even say we sound like a broken record given the extent to which we beat the drum for this seemingly simple idea. And that’s because for many Catholic schools, learning how to cultivate relationships with Latino families in their community has been the difference between viability and closure.
But what about those schools that aren’t necessarily experiencing enrollment challenges or facing impending closure? Is there intrinsic value in Latino outreach solely for the sake of building relationships, and how might that impact our school communities? St. Mary School in Vineland, New Jersey, serves as a perfect example of this. Their new initiative, United in Faith Latino Outreach (UFLO), is a great reminder that the work of building relationships with the Latino community should never be done simply for the sake of filling empty seats.
As a member of the fourth cohort of the LEI, as well as attendees of the 2018 Adelante conference, St. Mary School has demonstrated a commitment to Latino outreach. Their efforts, however, have not been driven by necessity. “We’re actually very fortunate that our school is already pretty full,” says advancement director, Carol Kirchman. “This new program was really born out of a desire to make inroads with the Latino community at Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church so that we can share the abundant possibilities that a Catholic education has to offer.”
Carol notes that after visiting Blessed Sacrament a number of times to promote the school, there remained a persistent disconnect. “Then one day, a lightbulb went off in my head,” she says. “I was thinking about everything we had learned at the LEI and Adelante about relationships being at the heart of any Latino outreach plan, and I realized that if we were going to build any kind of bridge to the parish community at Blessed Sacrament, we needed to go to them and meet them where they are. That’s when I had the idea for United in Faith Latino Outreach.”
The United in Faith Latino Outreach program, which kicked off this past February, seeks to forge strong community connections between St. Mary School and the parish families of Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament through monthly events at the Blessed Sacrament parish center. Each UFLO event includes a Gospel-centered children’s activity and craft during the Liturgy of the Word at the Spanish Mass, followed by a meal to which all families are invited to share in food and fellowship.
To bring this idea to fruition, Carol applied for and received grant funding from the Westerman Foundation. “I knew that this initiative aligned well with the mission of the Westerman Foundation because it’s about bringing communities of faith together,” says Carol. “We’re so grateful for their support to make this program possible.”
St. Mary School will host these monthly UFLO events at Blessed Sacrament through January 2020. “Their parish community has been so receptive already, and it has been wonderful to see the excitement of not only the children and families at Blessed Sacrament, but that of our volunteer students and parents from St. Mary School as well,” says Carol. “After our first event, I had more students and parents from the school wanting to get involved, and they have played an integral role in organizing the event, picking up the food, setting everything up, and leading the children’s activity.”
“The goal is to promote cultural unity and celebrate our shared values,” says Carol. “Our faith is what unites us, and that’s where the name of the program comes from. We’re putting into action everything we learned at the LEI about building relationships, and that’s our primary focus right now, not student recruitment.”
As is often the case, however, genuine outreach and relationship-building can quickly translate into new student enrollments. The experience of St. Mary School has been no different. After hosting the second UFLO event, three new families who attended showed up to an open house at St. Mary School. Two of them registered and one set up a shadow day at the school.
Carol will be the first to admit that she never could have expected to see such an immediate impact on their school, but this concerted effort to build relationships with the Latino families at Blessed Sacrament has done just that. “This experience has already confirmed what we learned and heard countless times at the LEI and Adelante,” says Carol. “It really is all about relationships. The LEI helped us get the ball rolling a couple years ago and we’ve made some good progress, but there was still a disconnect. UFLO has provided that missing link. Our hope is that this is just the beginning of a beautiful friendship and alliance between our St. Mary School community and the parish community at Blessed Sacrament.”
If you're interested in learning more about how your school can attract and better serve Latino families, consider joining us at the 2019 Adelante Summer Conference!