I volunteer a couple of hours a week at a school for fifth- to eighth-grade girls, sponsored by seven sisters' communities. A few weeks back, I attended the big fundraiser dinner and auction.
Auction items were high-end, like a private tour and cocktails for 12 at the St. Louis Art Museum, a vacation in Ireland, and a VIP trip to the Indianapolis 500. For the rest of us, instead of a silent auction cluttered with small goods, teachers simply posted their needs with price tags. So I was able to contribute to bus tickets for graduates to get to high school and work. And I paid for goggles for science class. Much better than the toolbox with a built-in flashlight that I acquired but never used -- or all those items I bid on but didn't win, so the money stayed in my pocket. The night event raised $300,000.
At the reception before dinner, appetizers and drinks came with napkins that included a reminder that the cost of a girl's education is $12,000 and that a girl with an extra year of education can earn 20 percent more as an adult, as well as a quote from Brigham Young: "You educate a man; you educate a man. You educate a woman; you educate a generation." Two of the sixth-graders talked with two of the male guests for 15 minutes about their hopes for college and careers. I thanked the men afterward for being so attentive, and they marveled at the girls' poise and eagerness to learn.
None of our communities could have started this school alone these days. It's been a true collaborative effort and an invitation to generosity we pass on to all our friends. I often pass the sites of some of the inner-city parish schools we used to have. Very few of those schools remain. Diocesan education offices have focused instead on establishing schools in wealthy suburbs. But we've found a way to continue educating poor girls, Catholic or not.