It was an unprecedented situation. After 145 years of serving Avon and surrounding communities, St. Agnes School, the “little school on the circle” in Avon, was facing closure. The shutdown across all New York schools due to the COVID-19 pandemic had prevented the St. Agnes from holding three of its major fundraisers as the 2019-2020 school year was coming to a close. On April 27th in the face of a budget deficit, it seemed likely the recommendation going forward on May 8th would be for the school’s closure.
“We were at risk of Father Michael making a recommendation for the school to close for the 2020-2021 school year due primarily to a budget deficit,” shared Elizabeth Jensen, principal of St. Agnes School. “The Parishes that support St. Agnes School will reduce support as well since the pandemic has created an unknown and tenuous financial situation, and collections are down.”
Jensen asked what could be done, and the answer was nothing short of a miracle: raise $100,000 in just over ten days. In spite of this seemingly impossible task, those at St. Agnes School pressed on. “The next day, we formed a task force, and on April 29th, we put up a GoFundMe,” she explained. “Within three days, we had raised $100,000 thanks to community members, alumni, current and former parents of students, teachers, even students which was so sweet.”
According to Jensen, this modern-day miracle was the answer to their prayers. Community members came together in many ways to safe this local gem. “One of our parents raised over $3,000 in a matter of a few days with a can and bottle drive,” she recalled. “Everyone came together to make this happen. The most powerful things about this miracle isn’t the money, it’s the people!”
Other community members, like Dipper Dan’s, made the case for St. Agnes School to remain open, sharing passionate and positive testimonies on school’s GoFundMe page. “The Mayor of Avon sent a letter on the effect losing the school would have on the community,” she shared. “Veterans expressed their support of our school and the way we teach patriotism, medical professionals cited the impact the school’s closing would have on mental health, we shared our test scores compared to surrounding areas.” The task force also put together a package, which included plans to increase the upcoming year’s enrollment, to convince Father Michael and others in the Diocese of all the other reasons St. Agnes School should remain open.
On May 6th, just ten short days since the St. Agnes School stood on the brink of closure, Father Michael presented the Bishop with a letter recommending that Avon’s St. Agnes School remain open. “He was able to share all the ways we had solved this problem,” explained Jensen. “The community rallied around our school. It was amazing how many of them see our school as part of our parish and part of our community. They were bothered that they didn’t know sooner, and I think this has taught us that, when we see trouble coming, we should reach out sooner and not just for financial help, but for all kinds of support.”
“At first, we thought we were only fighting for our students,” she continued. “But it turned out we were fighting for so many more people. It is all worth it when you realize the hundreds of people you have fighting with you in your corner. The community sees us as part of what makes them who they are, and they don’t want to lose us. That is why the Mayor and our Veterans were so willing to write letters. We are a part of the community, and this incredible support, love and generosity means so much, especially when so many people are struggling through this pandemic. This is our 145th year, and I am so thankful it didn’t stop.”
“Our drive encouraged others to be “a light in the darkness,” said Jensen. “When they donated, they were a light in our dark time. They lit up our sky!”
Jensen feels it is also important to share this incredible experience with others. “Already, another struggling school will be following in our footsteps,” she shared. “We want to tell our story because, if we can do this in the community of Avon, why can’t other school which are struggling do the same? I am certain there are other schools in similar situations right now, and we cannot let these faith-based schools close. They are so much more than centers for learning; they educate the whole child, earning the praise of parents and students, both past and present.”
Now, St. Agnes School’s big mission is to carry this momentum and move forward. “We want to make sure we have plans to increase enrollment, close the deficit and create a reserve,” stated Jensen. “We are working on a five-year plan, partnering with our foundation on development. We plan to build stronger relationships with our parishes, providing them more support and having a greater presence there. We are looking at fundraising avenues while being mindful not to overtax our parents. We are doing everything we can to be here another 145 years!
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