California couple honor parents with St. James School scholarship
Story by S.L. Hansen
CRETE (SNR) – “Every person is unique, and has a unique role to play in being charitable to others,” said Chris Raun, executive director of the Catholic Foundation of Southern Nebraska.
His said his job at the Foundation is to help “bring meaning and personal fulfillment to charitable giving.”
In other words, when a faithful Catholic feels compelled to practice charitable giving in a unique way, Raun can take their germ of an idea and shape it into an effective giving program, fueled by an endowment fund that will bring the idea to life.
One example is the brand-new John and Marlene Bals Scholarship Fund, which was started by Oakland, Calif., resident Karen Bals and her husband, Stephen Lockhart. The scholarship honors her parents and their dedication to Catholic education by providing full tuition to students at St. James School in Crete.
Every year, a kindergarten-age student whose parents could not otherwise afford tuition will be selected. His or her tuition will be paid every year they attend St. James School.
“It’s a scholarship designed to make sure that that student never has to leave St. James School because his or her parents cannot afford tuition,” Raun explained.
Bals and all her siblings attended St. James School in Crete when they were children. Their mother still lives in Crete; their father died in 2015.
“My parents believed that education was an important avenue to securing opportunities for our future,” Bals said. “My parents worked very hard to secure those advantages for us.”
Among those advantages was clear knowledge of how she should use the good fortune that she has experienced in her life.
“The unifying message of St. James School, Sacred Heart Church, and my parents was a lifelong personal responsibility to care for and about all humankind but particularly those less fortunate than us,” said Bals.
Similarly, Lockhart had the benefits of a Catholic education. Thanks to a scholarship, he attended St. Louis Priory School, a college preparatory school for boys in grades seven through 12 managed by Benedictine brothers.
“He received an exceptional education and learned life lessons from the monks, similar to those that informed my life at St. James School,” Bals said.
The couple agrees that Catholic schools are uniquely situated to offer quality education to a diverse student population.
“Catholic education can be a powerful force for positive social change in our communities,” Bals said, lauding the concepts of social justice and equality that are taught by the Church. “We took these principles into consideration when choosing a high school for our 15-year-old daughter, Anna, who attends a Catholic school.”
Catholic schools, Bals declared, “help young people develop into responsible, caring citizens.”
Sister Mary Alma, C.K., is principal of St. James School. She is thrilled to have a new scholarship to offer prospective kindergarteners.
St. James parents work hard and pay their tuition fees with dedicated regularity, Sister Mary Alma said. For some, this is at the cost of significant personal sacrifice.
“There are families in Crete, however, who would not be able to send their children to St. James without a scholarship,” she said.
Currently, there are just over 100 children enrolled in the PreK-6 school.
Now, more families will be able to give their children the Catholic family environment that Sister Mary Alma says is evident at St. James School.
“St. James School children are happy children,” she said. “They are free to be themselves because they know they are loved.”
Sister Mary Alma added, “The teachers are able to serve the children with love and kindness because they know the Lord and seek to become more and more like Him.”
Another real advantage for this school is the way the families operate as an extended family.
“The families are close knit and support each other. They are very loyal to the school and supportive of Catholic education,” she said.
This has been a long-standing truth at St. James School. Bals recalled how her family felt embraced by the school community.
“I remember a school that embraced and cared for families in our community,” she said. “The school and church were a gathering place to the start of every weekday and Sunday… It was – and still remains – a place for our family and community to share the joys and sorrows that make up our life experience.”
As the father of five sons who attended Catholic schools, Raun noted the importance of helping financially disadvantaged kids receive Catholic educations.
“Through scholarships like those provided by the Bals family, students have the benefit of being able to engage – and make friends with – students from culturally and financially diverse backgrounds,” he said. “That helps them better understand how to apply our common Catholic faith in living as brothers and sisters with the people around us.”
While anyone may contribute to the John and Marlene Bals Scholarship Fund, Raun hopes people will “get creative” with their charitable giving through the Catholic Foundation.
“We help people discover how they can personally make a difference in the lives of others, and at the same time provide for the financial needs of their families,” he said. “We can help them address the complexities of their entire financial plan, not just their plan for charitable giving.”
Raun is ready and willing to work with other individuals, couples and families who want to set up their own charitable giving program, whether a scholarship fund or some other means of helping others. He can also help donors find out if matching funds are available from their employers.
Crete-area families who have a child starting kindergarten next autumn and who are interested in applying for the John and Marlene Bals Scholarship Scholarship should consult with Sister Mary Alma. Preference will be given to students who would otherwise be unable to attend due to their family’s financial constraints, and for children who speak English as a second language.
“We want to reflect the specific commitment that John and Marlene had to the children in the community,” Lockhart explained.