Today, Big Shoulders Fund Northwest Indiana announced an extraordinary gift from long-time partner organization, the Dean and Barbara White Family Foundation, to Aquinas Catholic Community School in the amount of $1.25 million. The gift will fund upcoming renovations to accommodate the school’s rapidly growing student population, with plans for the renovations to begin in Spring 2022.
“I am very grateful for the generosity of the White family and their commitment to expanding opportunities for families to receive quality education through our Catholic schools,” said Bishop Robert J. McClory. “The staff and leadership of Aquinas Catholic Community School are passionately committed to provide its students and families with an outstanding education in a faith-based environment. In addition to this gift, I am appreciative of the work Big Shoulders Fund Northwest Indiana has done to support our Catholic schools across the region.”
Aquinas Catholic Community School is a pillar of its community, providing a top-tier education and support network to children from pre-kindergarten through eighth grade. The renovation will expand the school to include an enhanced front entrance, front office, two new classrooms, and a space to accommodate students with additional learning needs.
“The expansion of Aquinas will assist our partners at the Big Shoulders Fund in carrying out their mission of making affordable high-quality education available to students, and to support the educators who have accepted that important calling,” said Bill Hanna, Executive Director of the Dean and Barbara White Family Foundation. “Big Shoulders Fund has a rich history of successfully advancing this goal in Chicago and now Northwest Indiana.”
Since 2017, Aquinas’ student population has grown by 37%, largely due to the determination of the school’s principal, Lisa Gutierrez, to ensure every eligible family at her school is able to take advantage of the Indiana Choice Scholarship Program. The scholarship makes a Catholic school education more accessible to families that were once not able to consider it due to financial cost, expanding the academic options available to families and allowing qualifying families to make education decisions based on what best fits their individual needs.
“We are overwhelmed at the generosity of this gift and excited to be able to serve even more students with a high-quality Catholic education,” said Lisa Gutierrez, Principal at Aquinas Catholic Community School. “We’re growing so fast that we have repurposed rooms that weren’t designed to be classrooms into classrooms, so this gift will help us expand and welcome more families into our tight-knit community.”
“For more than 150 years, Catholics in Merrillville have created an opportunity for families to provide their children with an outstanding education grounded in faith,” said Father Ted Mauch, Pastor of the recently blended Merrillville Catholic parishes. “We see this gift as a tremendous blessing for our Catholic and non-Catholic brothers and sisters throughout the Merrillville community.”
In 2019, a generous commitment from Bruce White, Founder and Chairman of Merrillville, Indiana-based White Lodging, and his wife Beth funded the expansion of Big Shoulders Fund’s programming to Northwest Indiana through a fully funded $16 million gift. Big Shoulders Fund is an independent charitable organization that provides support and assistance to elementary schools and high schools that primarily serve students from low-income backgrounds. Since then, Aquinas has benefited from increased operational support and academic programming through Big Shoulders Fund, including access to updated technology, curricular resources, and instructional and data coaching. Furthermore, Big Shoulders Fund is working closely with the schools in its network to improve their long-term viability by focusing on increasing student enrollment, providing financial aid opportunities and offering students access to STEM scholarships, enrichment, and summer programs.
“This gift from the Dean and Barbara White Family Foundation, and the significant growth Aquinas has experienced that necessitated this expansion, is a testament to the collective dedication to the broader Big Shoulders Fund mission to ensure that all families have access to a quality, values-based education,” said Dan Kozlowski, Managing Director of Big Shoulders Fund Northwest Indiana. “Bruce and Beth White made it possible to significantly enhance the vitality of Catholic schools in Northwest Indiana by funding the expansion of Big Shoulders Fund’s programming to the region in 2019, and we are incredibly appreciative of the continued support they have provided through their foundation.”
“Under Lisa’s leadership, Aquinas is one of the schools in the network that has experienced the most growth and now, this expansion will allow them to serve even more students comfortably and effectively,” he added.