Holy Cross announces new community center

Abby Hoover
Managing Editor

Holy Cross School at 121 N Quincy Ave. will soon be home to a new multi-purpose community center.

The project is being funded by the Bright Futures Fund’s Shine Brightly Campaign, which has raised more than $1.9 million toward a $3.2 million goal. The new facilities will include an expanded Early Childhood Development Center, community meeting and social services space, a multi-purpose athletic facility and outdoor playground.

“The Holy Spirit has inspired the hearts and minds of so many of us for this exciting project,” said Jeremy Lillig, Bright Futures Executive Director. “When we began, we had no idea that the Spirit was leading us to this wonderful day.”

The 13,000-square foot addition, although connected to Holy Cross School by a covered walkway, will be meant to be used by the entire community after school and on weekends year round.

Holy Cross Principal Barb Deane retired from Kansas City Public Schools, but she and her children all attended Catholic schools. Deane said there are many motivations behind a community center, including having a new space for kids to have PE and indoor recreation during the school day.

She said while the school and programs often take advantage of Budd Park across the street and a fenced-in lot on their property, the only indoor recreation space available to students is the basement of the Parish Hall, which was built in the 1920s. Deane said while the space has been used for years, it is not the most ideal spot.

“This center will not only allow Holy Cross needed facilities during school hours, but will be a great boost to other neighborhood social services with whom we currently partner like Mattie Rhodes,” said Lamar Hunt, Jr., Bright Futures board member and campaign leader. “We are so thrilled by Mabee’s decision as these new spaces will allow us and our partners to offer numerous programs, not only to our 400 Bright Futures students, but hundreds of other at-risk youth and their families throughout the Northeast urban core.”

When Deane started at Holy Cross eight years ago, she did some needs assessment on programming and facilities.

“I am not somebody who believes in reinventing the wheel, I think you need to be part of your community and reach out and partner with people in the community, so I would go to NEAT meetings,” Deane said.

Her involvement led to a partnership with the Mattie Rhodes Center for counseling and other programs like Soccer for Success, collaboration with The Upper Room for after school and summer programming, and Holy Cross parenting classes, all of which are open to the community.

John Fierro, president and CEO of Mattie Rhodes, shared a study they had done with Deane about the need for early childhood care in the Northeast. Holy Cross has what she describes as a “nice, solid pre-k program,” but they don’t have the facilities to go younger than that, and Mattie Rhodes is experienced in community programming and would like to get involved in early childhood services, but they don’t have the resources to take on a facility or the space at their current location, Deane said.

“I started thinking about the possibility of us being able to have a community building that would be available to us to use during the day, to be able to use for PE and all those things, but could also be a place where folks in the community could come and there’d be programming in the evenings,” Deane said. “It seemed to me that a lot of our kids lacked – it’s not that there aren’t good facilities, but they aren’t right in this area.”

With James and Gladstone public elementary schools so close by, Holy Cross had the least amount of hoops to jump through to make a community center happen, Deane said.

Less than a year ago, the Bright Futures Fund began the Shine Brightly Campaign, which has already funded upgrades to Holy Cross and Our Lady of Hope. In one of the largest single foundation gifts to Bright Futures in its 31-year history, the J.E. and L.E. Mabee Foundation of Midland, Texas issued a $650,000 challenge grant for the construction of the Shine Brightly Neighborhood Center.

Bright Futures has one year to meet the challenge to complete funding for the Shine Brightly Neighborhood Center on the corner of St. John and Denver avenues. Deane said it is about a $7 million project, and they are about half way to their goal, which she takes no credit for, and thinks isn’t bad considering COVID-19’s economic impact. As of now, they hope to break ground next summer, depending on fundraising.

“I think when you make an obvious investment in the community that people feel like they matter… we have a safe place that’s close to home, and just the number of kids who are really within walking distance of us, but there’s not a good indoor place,” Deane said. “I think it’s just limited by your imagination and what you think you can do. The first item is to have the place and to have some relationships already established, and then it grows from there.”

Holy Cross students are overwhelmingly Hispanic, and their demographics mirror that of nearby public schools. Nearly 87% of Holy Cross students are on the Free and Reduced Price School Meals. About 80% of the school’s students speak English as a second language, and Deane said there are quite a few bilingual staff because of this.

“Right now, we are the last remaining Catholic school from I-435 to the trafficway, and from the river to 87th Street,” Deane said. “Even 20 years ago, there were half a dozen Catholic schools in that area, more than that. We’ve been fortunate that we have folks who believe – and a board with the Bright Futures Fund who believe – in providing those options to kids over here and helping to keep the community vibrant.”

The Bright Futures Fund strives to challenge and encourage students in Kansas City to discover their full potential while developing a personal relationship with Christ, according to their website. The money raised by this fund fully supports operating costs of our two Bright Futures Schools and subsidizes tuition for nearly 100 percent of students at those schools.

Those two schools are Holy Cross School and Our Lady of Hope at 4232 Mercier St., both Catholic elementary schools founded in 1910. Holy Cross has around 175 students, and Our Lady of Hope has 180, with an average student to teacher ratio of between 11 and 15 students per teacher. The average household income for a family in these schools is $16,000.

“[The Bring Futures Fund] are able to reach out to a lot of our benefactors and allow us to do some pretty substantial scholarships so that we are able to offer sliding scale tuition,” Deane said. “I have probably less than 1% of my families that pay full tuition, and those are just folks who are able to pay it and choose to do it.”

Due to its small size, Holy Cross returned to the classroom full time in August, save for a few families who opted into online learning. Everyone wears masks and the students are divided into cohorts, where the kids stay together in a small group and teachers rotate.

The Bright Futures Fund Capital Campaign can be found at brightfuturesfund.org.

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