Daily Point of Light # 2319 Dec 24, 2002

The Big Shoulders Fund is a not-for-profit organization, which was founded in 1986 by the late Joseph Cardinal Bernardin to provide support to Catholic inner-city schools. The mission of the Big Shoulders Fund is to provide assistance to those schools which serve the poor and disadvantaged in the neediest parts of inner city Chicago. In the past sixteen years, the Fund has raised more than $120 million, which has provided support for day-to-day operations, tuition assistance, special education programs, faculty development, salaries and ongoing operating and capital expenses.

As part of the larger Archdiocese of Chicago Catholic school educational system, Big Shoulders Fund sponsored Catholic schools are an important resource for the disadvantaged. Today’s students are challenged with succeeding against overwhelming circumstances. Many of the students face challenging, disruptive family situations, gangs, crime, drugs, poverty and racism.

Through the years, Big Shoulders has helped provide Catholic schools, their students and families with the ability to meet challenges and difficulties head on. The students need a solid, positive educational experience that will provide them with the tools to succeed in school, in their careers and in society since over half of the students attending Big Shoulders Schools live in families, which are at or below the poverty level.

The Big Shoulders Catholic Schools are value-based safe havens for the students who attend them. The students are disciplined, determined to succeed, respectful and represent a rich resource to meet the future employment needs of many Chicago-based companies. By educating these students, the Big Shoulders Fund hopes to help to break the cycle of poverty.

It is ever so important to provide every possibility for students to have the opportunity to attend both Catholic elementary and high schools. In some families, findings show that the older children are transferred to other schools in order to enable their younger siblings to attend Catholic elementary schools. By providing students with high quality educational opportunities, the Big Shoulders Fund hopes to ensure that they are placed on the road to successful, fulfilling lives.

The Big Shoulders Fund has always emphasized scholarship funding which provides students with the incentive to excel to the best of their intellectual abilities. The Big Shoulders Scholarship Program raises funds to bridge the gap between the actual cost of tuition and what the parents can afford to pay. Among the challenges facing families, none is more urgent than the task of educating their children. Many parents are struggling to keep their heads above water and make a living adequate enough to feed, clothe and educate their children. Still others live with a grandparent or are in foster care, or are the innocent victims of disease, drug abuse or neglect. Support from the Big Shoulders Scholarship Programs helps to assure a nurturing academic environment for these youngsters, one that provides them with the all-important foundation they will need to meet the challenges and the opportunities that await them.

Among other recent projects undertaken, the Big Shoulders Fund established a Patron’s Program that enables individuals, corporations or other foundations to become more involved in the schools sponsored by the Fund. Currently there are 16 Patron Schools associated with the Big Shoulders Fund.

Cardinal Francis George, Archbishop of Chicago is heartened at the success the Big Shoulders Fund enjoys. “We know, because of our mutual involvement in the Big Shoulders Fund, that we are moving forward in serving inner city children. Yet, we also realize that there are many challenges before us. For example, for every one scholarship that it awarded through the Big Shoulders Fund, there are eight students who do not receive support. That is one of the many reasons why the need for increased support from the Big Shoulders Fund is so vital to the future of our inner city Catholic schools. In working together to strengthen these schools, I am confident that we can meet these challenges head on and achieve even greater success.”