Charity to Provide School Supplies to 200 Students

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Local realtor bridges the gap between education, community and the economy.

Supporting the community is supporting the value of your home. A community is only as strong as the people make it.

Not all private schools have it easy. Though St. Cecilia Elementary School of Cincinnati is nestled between the affluent neighborhoods of Hyde Park, Oakley and Mt. Lookout, its students are primarily from low-income families. St. Cecilia has thus far survived the wave of Catholic school closings, despite funding shortages and overtaxed families, but Cincinnati real estate agent Amy Broghamer thinks her community should do more - about $8,000 more.

"I wanted to help a school that wasn't getting help from anywhere else, a school that really needed me," Broghamer said. She created the AmyBSells Giving Back charity to provide students at St. Cecilia with school supplies at the start of the school year. The ballpark price tag to outfit approximately 200 students with pencils, pens, folders, notebooks and other supplies will be around $10,000. "The cost is definitely more than I bargained for, but I'm committed to this project," Broghamer said. "If I have to pay for the whole thing myself, I will."

Frustrated with endless meetings and red tape at other charitable organizations, Broghamer wanted to get more hands on with her volunteer work. While looking for an inner-city where she could volunteer her time and resources, she instead found something closer to home. "I had this common misconception that private schools don't need help, but St. Cecilia needs help and it's in my community," she said. "It's the perfect place for me to do meaningful work."

Only 60 percent of St. Cecilia's student body is Catholic, and the school serves a diverse population - 28 percent African Americans, 62 percent Caucasian and 10 percent other ethnicities - that would otherwise be bereft of quality education. More than 56 percent of the school's families are classified as low income, a phenomenon that has resulted from the mass exodus of families out of the inner-city, according to St. Cecilia's Principal Lori Heffner.

"Because a large portion of our families are low-income, many students are unable to come to school with the proper supplies - markers, folders, and even pens and pencils," Heffner said. "Our teachers shoulder the burden by paying for school supplies out of their own pocket."

St. Cecilia recently instituted a breakfast program after it was discovered that many students were arriving to class without having eaten anything beforehand. "It's hard to learn when you don't have the proper supplies and you're hungry," Heffner asserted.
With the assistance from AmyBSells Giving Back, St. Cecilia teachers will be able to use their personal funds for extracurricular materials such as art materials or games. The financial boost will also free up funds in the school budget to provide other supplies such as sports equipment, according to Heffner.

The majority of St. Cecilia's funding comes from parishioners' Sunday contributions, with some federal grants to ease the burden. As well, St. Cecilia is not classified as an inner-city school, so it doesn't receive funding from the Catholic-Inner-City Schools Education Fund or from other sources that help troubled school districts. Because the majority of St. Cecilia students are from low-income families, community fundraisers that would normally help to cushion the school's fiscal crunch are out of the question. So the school doesn't receive vital support from the community upon which many private schools depend.

"We're stuck in a gap of funding," Heffner said. "We're in a second tier of schools that puts us at disadvantage for receiving state or federal funding, and our families can't bear the cost alone."
Despite these challenges, St. Cecilia has managed to maintain a strong commitment to equal opportunity education. The school also offers programs for students with disabilities, something for which many Catholic schools are not equipped.

Investing in education is bound to pay off for the local economy and the community, according to Mark Neikirk, director of the Scripps Howard Center for Civic Engagement at Northern Kentucky University. "From my observation, improving an economy isn't about quick fixes but about long-term commitments to proven strategies, and the single most proven strategy is improving education," he said. "If you want poverty, let your schools fail. If you want a healthier economy, see to it that your schools - and their students - succeed."

At St. Cecilia, there is no separation between the community and the classroom. "We serve the needs of the less fortunate in our community," Heffner said. "Our students do a great deal of community service." St. Cecilia students participate at Tender Mercies for the homeless, and they send donations to the Oakley Pantry and to Project Hope in Adams County. Every year at Christmas time, each classroom hosts a disadvantage child or family through The Family Giving Tree program. Additionally, the school supports a mission school in Nairobi, Kenya.

"As a realtor, I know that investing in the community is important," she said. While most realtors buy presents for their clients after a sale, Broghamer makes a donation to a local charity in their name. "Giving back is a win-win situation," she said. "Supporting the community is supporting the value of your home. A community is only as strong as the people make it."

While housing woes and economic fears dominate the financial landscape, the outlook of St. Cecilia's surrounding communities is hardly bleak. In Hyde Park, the five-year return on a home is 42 percent, and in Oakley and Mt. Lookout the return is 38 percent and 34 percent, respectively. "The local property value is directly tied to the health of the community and the schools," she said. "With that kind of return on investment, there's no reason that people can't give back to ensure the future of our more disadvantaged neighborhoods and in the future of those children."

Once AmyBSells Giving Back has collected donations, Broghamer will personally buy and deliver the supplies to St. Cecilia so that every student has a fresh start for the first day of school. "There is no filter between the money I receive and the money that is spent," she said. "Every cent will be spent on the students."

Anyone interested in donating to AmyBSells Giving Back can contact Amy Broghamer at 513-377-3637 or visit Donations for the St. Cecilia School will be accepted through August 30, 2008.


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