By Marlene Bergsma, Communications Coordinator
Dozens of Ontario children started the school year in a new Christian school because of a major gift to the Christian School Foundation.
In late August, principals at the foundation’s 23 member schools were informed that a supporting donor had made a $100,000 gift — but it came with a catch. The funds should be used specifically to boost enrolment.
In particular, the donor wanted the gift to open the doors of Christian schools to families who had not considered it an option before, said Henry Koornneef, the foundation’s executive vice-president.
The donor, who wants to remain anonymous, also asked that schools measure and keep track of the impact of the bursary, Koornneef said.
Principals were invited to submit proposals for how the funds could be used in their schools, said Koornneef.
Seventeen principals at schools across the province responded to the donor’s offer, and now close to 40 more students from 32 different families are being blessed with the opportunity to attend a Christian school.
Principals used their discretion and their knowledge of families’ differing situations to offer entrance scholarships ranging from $750 to $3,000, in each case, putting Christian education within a family’s financial reach.
John VanderWindt, principal of Quinte Christian High School in Belleville, said he met with his school’s financial administrator and then contacted several families.
In one case, the school was able to double the amount of scholarship that had originally been offered, which made it possible for the family to choose Quinte Christian.
“The mother was thrilled,” to learn of the scholarship, VanderWindt said. “She said ‘I am coming over right away to fill out the paperwork.’ She was overjoyed.”
At the Niagara Association for Christian Education, which operates two schools (John Knox Christian in Stoney Creek and Covenant Christian in Smithville), the Foundation funds “were a gift we were able to leverage very effectively,” said Tony Kamphuis, executive director.
“Receiving this money in the last week of summer meant that we had one more reason to reach out and touch some families,” Kamphuis said. He offered support to 16 different families, with nine taking him up on the offer. But even the people who still said “no” — some because they didn’t feel comfortable making a last-minute switch — were grateful for the offer and may reconsider in the future, he said.
The families are profoundly grateful, say the principals.
The father of one new family attended the school’s opening assembly and video recorded the students singing “10,000 Reasons (Bless the Lord)” by Matt Redman.
“I just cannot believe my children are going to get a chance to attend a school like this!” exclaimed the father at the opening assembly. “It is amazing!”
The Foundation’s announcement of the new funding also came with an invitation for principals to help shape the new scholarship fund. They were invited to participate in a planning session to give their input on a permanent design for the scholarship, its delivery system and ways to measure its effectiveness.
Michael Van Pelt, acting CEO of the foundation, said the initial and speedy response from member schools demonstrates that this kind of strategic investment is needed.
“We hope a strong beginning to this program can help us grow the scholarship into a large and annual scholarship that our member schools can use to attract more families to their communities,” said Van Pelt.
In addition to boosting enrolment at a dozen schools, the gift is also bearing other fruit, Koornneef said.
New conversations with principals across the province are delivering even more enrolment-boosting ideas and the foundation thinks it knows some philanthropists who can help.
“When donors see good ideas, they want to help make them happen,” Koornneef said. “There are philanthropists in our communities who are willing and able to help meet the needs of our schools.