Carol Villani wanted her two daughters to attend a Catholic school and get a good education. A working single mother, she was willing to make the financial sacrifice to pay the tuition to send her two daughters, Shannon, 12 and Ashley, 9, to St. Margaret School in Middle Village.
But then in 2009, she lost her job and her source of income. She was worried her daughters would no longer be able to go to the school they loved.
“It was very difficult and I didn’t know what to do going forward,” Villani said.
Though she lives in Fresh Meadows, she and her daughters commute to Middle Village each day for school because they love St. Margaret so much. To be forced to take them out of that school and put them in public school was not what Villani, who immigrated from Guatemala in 1980 and grew up in a rough part of Brooklyn, wanted for her children.
For many families of Catholic faith, tuition to send their child, or children, to a Catholic school is out of reach. Working class and poor families already pinching every penny to survive, or in Villani's case, had their finances planned out only to suffer a sudden loss in income.
According to Stefanie Gutierrez, spokeswoman for the Diocese of Brooklyn, about one-third of diocesan families with children in Catholic schools fall below the poverty line of $27,000 in income. That makes foundations like Futures in Education, which offers needs-based scholarships to students from families below the poverty line so they may be able to send their children to Catholic schools so vital.
“Many families want their children to have a solid education, grounded in the Catholic faith, but do not have the financial means to make that happen,” said the Most Rev. Nicholas DiMarzio, Bishop of Brooklyn. “We have over 30,000 students in our Catholic elementary schools and academies and over one-third of them fall below the poverty level of $27,000 a year. These are financial-based scholarships; children that would never get a good quality Catholic education if it was not for Futures in Education.”
Villani was referred to Futures in Education by the staff at St. Margaret after she lost her job.
“They are lifesavers,” Villani said. “I’m pleading for every donor to please continue their support. Its very life changing for children go to a Catholic school. I feel the kids are in a safer environment.”
She will speak about her experiences at the Futures in Education scholarship dinner on Oct. 9 at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in Manhattan. The honoree at the dinner will be Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, who attended a Catholic high school in Queens — Archbishop Molly.
Villani said her faith was extremely important to her, and helped her growing up in a rough neighborhood, and she wanted her daughters to grow up in a Catholic environment.
“I believe in my faith strongly. Without it I cannot do anything,” she said. “I want my daughters to learn it as well.”
Shannon and Ashley love their school, Villani said, because it offers so many different activities and clubs. The girls are involved in the school choir, drama club and the science club.
“St. Margaret offers a variety of different experiences for them,” she said. “Not only in terms of education, they really care for the students. I’ve seen other families that cannot afford the schools and Futures in Education is able to help them. I wish the program can help more people.”
Villani said her daughters want to help make tuition for affordable for families in need.
“They tell me ‘Mom, one day I want to be an angel and help others,’” she said.