Nearly every parent wants more in life for their child than he or she had while growing up. Sometimes it’s about the little things, like that snazzy pair of name-brand sneakers that remind you of the ones you coveted as a kid – and the more affordable knockoffs your parents bought instead. More often, however, it’s about the bigger picture: health, happiness, fulfillment and success.
For parents struggling to make ends meet, providing a brighter future for their children can seem insurmountable, like an uphill climb in quicksand. A strong education is at the top of most parents’ wish lists, but financial limitations and insufficient options can make access to academically rigorous and safe schools a near impossibility.
“Just because you have lesser means, doesn’t mean you love your child any less, or that you don’t want the same things that others have the resources to provide,” emphasizes Sharon Gerken, executive director of the Today and Tomorrow Educational Foundation (TTEF).
In 1991, St. Louis Archbishop John L. May, Sr. Mary Ann Eckhoff and other local Catholic leaders joined forces to expand educational opportunities for St. Louis-area children. Together, they formed TTEF, a nonprofit organization dedicated to making education, specifically faith-based education, more affordable for elementary students and their families.
“In the 1980s, Catholic schools began transitioning from a majority religious to a principally lay faculty, and the cost of attendance began to skyrocket,” declares Kevin Short, board chairman of TTEF. “It changed the dynamics of these schools. Faith-based education was no longer available to parts of the middle class, and definitely not to the poor.”
When TTEF first launched, it awarded lump sum grants to parochial elementary schools in the City of St. Louis. Since then, TTEF’s funding structure and scope have greatly expanded. The nonprofit now offers six scholarship programs to support both Catholic and non-denominational private education throughout the St. Louis region, and has grown into the fourth largest elementary school scholarship organization in the country. In addition, many of these scholarships are open to students of all faiths. “I believe that it’s a God-given right for every child in this community to receive an education,” states Short. “My faith is fundamental to me. It’s what drives me. I am here to help children in poverty get out of poverty through education.”
That same mission fuels Greg Twardowski’s participation on TTEF’s board. As president and CEO of Whelan Security, Twardowski oversees more than 1,200 local employees, many of whom earn a modest wage. “My interest in getting involved was to try to help families, including some of my own employees, break the cycle of poverty through educational opportunity,” says Twardowski. He and his team actively promote TTEF to the company’s employees. “TTEF is all about hope, opportunity, choice and a chance for these children. For me, it’s really about trying to change the future.”
In the last school year, TTEF brightened the futures of approximately 4,300 students through scholarship awards. “Many of the kids in our programs are the first to graduate high school and to enroll in college,” says Gerken. “We plant the seed in these kids that they aren’t any different than anyone else, and that they should think and dream big. We empower them with the tools and the education to make that possible.”
TTEF scholarship recipient Kristiona D. already has serious plans for her future. Since transferring from a public school to St. Frances Cabrini Academy, this sixth-grader feels challenged and supported. As a result, she’s excelling – especially in math, her favorite subject. “The teachers are really nice, but the best part is that they have a good sense of humor, just like me,” she says. “I’m going to be a doctor one day, so that I can help people who need me. My school makes me feel safe, and I want to make others feel safe.”
At the Ninth Annual Archbishop’s Gala, attendees will hear stories of other students, like Kristiona, whose lives have been positively impacted by TTEF. This year’s event will be held on Wednesday, April 18 at 6 p.m. at The Ritz- Carlton, St. Louis. Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann, of Kansas City, will receive the annual Sr. Mary Ann Eckhoff Award and will serve as keynote speaker.
This year’s theme – “Think Big, Go Far” – could not be more appropriate to the organization and its mission. As TTEF’s largest annual fundraising event, the Gala raises approximately $800,000 each year for scholarships. Short hopes that the event will raise not only much-needed funds, but also awareness about the power of TTEF’s work. “It’s remarkable the effect that these scholarships have on a family - it’s huge,” he stresses. “As members of the community with means, we have a responsibility to give these kids a hand up, not a handout.”
Today and Tomorrow Educational Foundation, 20 Archbishop May Drive, St. Louis, 314-792-7031, ttef-stl.org
10 Things About TTEF
1. TTEF is the fourth largest elementary school scholarship organization in the U.S.
2. TTEF has raised more than $90 million in need-based tuition assistance scholarships since its inception.
3. TTEF is 11th in the ranking of St. Louis’ largest charitable trusts and foundations.
4. TTEF awarded 4,300 scholarships for the 2017-18 school year.
5. One hundred twenty-three parochial and private elementary schools receive TTEF scholarship dollars.
6. TTEF’s average family income across all programs is $38,133.
7. TTEF’s average scholarship award is $1,606.
8. Ninety percent of TTEF eighth-graders are accepted to college prep high schools.
9. Ninety-eight percent of TTEF seniors graduate from high school.
10. Ninety-nine percent of TTEF alumni enroll in post-secondary education.