Story and Photos by Nancy McGuire.
Our Lady of Perpetual Help School (OLPH) is a living example of the childhood storybook, The Little Engine That Could. “I think I can, I think I can” is the popular refrain from the folktale as the little blue engine pulls the cars up and over the mountain so the children on the other side can receive food and toys. The OLPH development department, under the direction of Mary Linn Clifford and development officer Theresa Reunes, utter these words each day as they climb the mountain to raise the funds necessary to help keep the OLPH students “on track” to positive academic and life outcomes.
Nestled between Love Field and Harry Hines Boulevard, OLPH has been serving neighboring families for 75 years, both spiritually and academically. Their motto of “Inspiring, Educating and Transforming Lives” has been the lifeblood of those on staff and those who have been fortunate enough to be brought into the volunteer ranks. In recent years, approximately 97% of the enrolled students are on some form of financial aid, making tuition assistance the school’s number one priority. Each family receiving this aid is required to perform 40 hours of service to the school. With a gap of more than $6,800 between the cost to educate each student and the average tuition paid, it is imperative for the school to raise outside funds to successfully operate each year. From salsa and enchilada dinner sales to the big gala that generates several hundreds of thousands of dollars, every penny is important to the school’s bottom line. The funds raised are used to provide educational enhancements that might not otherwise be available to OLPH students.
The school measures success in many different ways, from the enrollment levels in its innovative Montessori-based early childhood program to the development of a STEM/TEAL classroom for all students. In 2021, all eighth graders earned entry into the high school of their choice, garnering more than 450,000 dollars in scholarship funds and tuition assistance over the four-year span. Especially proud of the Montessori-based early childhood program, Mary Linn sees it not only as a benefit to the students enrolled but to the community at large. “Because our program is full-day for children ages 3 to 5, it is open to all in the community and serves as a gateway to a strong academic foundation from which to build a lifelong love of school.” Much of the funds raised in recent years has helped acquire the necessary resources and provide the training to teachers and staff to establish this crucial developmental program.
In her third year as Principal, Maria Searle has embraced the challenge of “Inspiring, Educating and Transforming Lives” with strong support from teachers, staff, families, and volunteers. Because the stability and dedication she provides has been contagious, her students, especially the very young, are thriving under her leadership.
Much of the school’s success in raising funds would not be possible without the dedicated volunteers who diligently work alongside Mary Linn and Theresa to bring a Catholic education for all who seek it. Taking her position in 2015, Mary Linn has spread her net far and wide to harness her connections with friends from many different circles including those from St Paul’s Catholic School in Richardson, Christ the King, and Jesuit Preparatory School. This loyal band of volunteers has been ever faithful and dedicated to OLPH’s mission. Adding Bingo Night and Holiday Galore to the annual Valentines Day Luncheon and the big Gala, fundraising events span the entire school year.
Chairing this year’s Jubilee Gala, Carmen and Eduardo Perez believe strongly in the value of a Catholic education for all who want it and have been working hard to make this year’s event a tremendous success. Says Carmen, “My husband and I firmly believe that a Catholic education is not only for those who can afford it but should be available to those who could benefit the most.” Held virtually last year, the Perez’s, Mary Linn, and event volunteers are excited to host the event on campus in honor of the school’s 75th anniversary. On Saturday, April 2nd, OLPH’s gym and tented parking lot was transformed into a whirl of fun and activity offering guests the opportunity to eat, drink, and raise funds for a very worthwhile cause. Included in this year’s auction were exciting trips and group experiences, as well as the wine pull, bubbly diamond drop and many silent auction items.
Transforming lives is not easy work, but the staff, family and friends of OLPH see the payoff everyday in the successes of their students. The little engine that could is chugging along just fine at OLPH!
To learn more about Our Lady of Perpetual Help School, go to https://www.olphschooldallas.org/