Issue: March/April 2010
Community Impact Awards: Class Acts
A service program helps Cleveland Central Catholic students and the Slavic Village neighborhood.
Dubbed the ground zero of Cleveland’s financial and foreclosure crisis by local pessimists, Slavic Village has become a symbol of the city’s suffering for many residents. But Karl Ertle, president and principal of Cleveland Central Catholic High School, has worked to change that.
In 2007, a three-year, $1 million grant from the Third Federal Foundation breathed life into Ertle’s brainchild, Central Catholic’s Stefanski Service Scholarship Program. “I wanted to do a win-win, something that would make an impact on our Slavic Village area, which has been kicked in the gut,” he explains.
An estimated 80 percent of Central Catholic families live at or below the federal poverty line. The Service Scholarship Program helps them afford the school’s $6,500 annual tuition. “Nobody can write me a check each month — or even annually — for the $6,500,” admits Ertle. “So now everyone works together.”
Central Catholic students can earn $10 per hour of volunteer work in the Slavic Village community to put toward tuition ($20 per hour if a parent participates). Students and their families have served as after-school tutors, assisted elderly residents with tasks like grocery shopping and snow shoveling, helped get rid of graffiti and trash around the neighborhood, and worked at key community institutions like its hunger center.
More than 340 Central Catholic families have participated in the program, putting in an incredible 65,000 hours of service.
The payoff? “It’s greatly increased our retention,” says Ertle. The neighborhood is better cared for, and parents can teach their children the value of hard work. “They’re not looking for a handout,” he says. “I just love that about our families.”
More than a way to pay for school, the program is a lesson in itself. “You’re seeing a lot of young people really understanding what communities are all about,” says Kurt Karakul, president and executive director of the Third Federal Foundation. “That, we think, is important for their education.”
A three-year program, the Third Federal grant pool has only about a third of the $1 million gift remaining. Recognizing the program’s value, Fairmount Minerals has committed $225,000 in grants. The company has asked that student volunteers focus their energies on green and wellness activities such as recycling and tending community gardens.
“We would love other partners to step up,” Ertle says.
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