Last Updated: Thursday - 09/30/2010
October 4, 2010
Schools find life after gambling bucks
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
Several Catholic school districts have responded creatively to the Alberta bishops' rejection of gambling as a fundraising method followed by Archbishop Richard Smith's ban on "harmful gambling activities."
Red Deer Catholic Schools, for instance, haven't done casino or bingo fundraisers for about 10 years, says board chair Christine Moore.
"There is life after (casinos)," she said. "At first, of course, we faced a strong reaction, but finally parents accepted this."
Last February the district started a Catholic foundation, whose role is to promote Catholic education and raise funds to pay for extras.
The first activity the foundation organized was a banquet with a victim of the Rwandan genocide as the keynote speaker. Result? "We raised $30,000 in one night," Moore said. "We have survived."
But life is full of temptations. Moore admitted that the district has accessed the Alberta Lottery Fund a few times but said that came to a halt following Smith's ban. "I and my board totally agree with Archbishop Smith that we cannot exploit the poor and the weak."
Calgary Catholic stopped using gambling as a source of fundraising on March 1. Bishop Fred Henry imposed the ban on March 1, 2007 and gave Catholic schools and other groups three years to transition to other forms of fundraising.
"We were raising between $2 million and $3 million every 12 months through casinos," noted chief superintendent Dr. Lucy Miller. About 30 per cent of the 100 schools in the district were involved in casino fundraisers.
Calgary Catholic has been working on ways to move away from casinos for at least a year and a half. The district met with schools and school councils and asked them to find more appropriate ways of fundraising Miller said. It also established the Catholic Foundation of Calgary, a diocesan structure to conduct major fundraising activities.
The foundation hasn't being officially launched but it did collect $80,000 during the last Sunday Education Mass.
MILLION DOLLAR DONORS
"In the meantime we also got two major donations from Catholics in the community, each donation for $500,000 a year for the next three years," Miller said. "So two individuals donated a million dollars a year for the next three years to get us up and running."
The superintendent said individual schools would be able to ask the foundation for money "to augment what they are raising through their traditional methods." Traditional methods include galas, book sales, bazaars and silent auctions.
The ban on gambling activities "was quite a divisive issue in the community about five years ago when Bishop Henry talked about that," noted Miller.
"As a board, and as a district the commitment, we finally made was 'When it comes to issues of our faith, we defer to the bishop,'" she said. "I am 100 per cent behind the bishop's decision."
Schools needing a hot breakfast or lunch program found "community partners" to provide a lunch program. Often these partners are Catholic businesses that support the bishop's stance.
The Greater St. Albert Catholic School Division has been moving away from casino fundraisers since it received a letter from St. Paul Bishop Luc Bouchard some 18 months ago. The St. Albert district is located in two dioceses: Edmonton and St. Paul.
"So we started moving away from (gambling activities) probably prior to those districts like Edmonton Catholic," noted board chair David Caron.
Unlike Edmonton, St. Albert schools used gambling proceeds primarily to fund playground construction.
Now, with gambling banned, they are using other strategies. "For example, we lobbied the City of St. Albert for support for playground construction and they have passed a bylaw that does authorize some funding toward playgrounds," Caron said.
Like Red Deer and Calgary, St. Albert Catholic may also set up a Catholic foundation to raise funds for extra-curricular needs.
"I recognize the point that the bishops are making, certainly, and we've had workshops in this area and we heard some heart-wrenching stories of families practically torn apart by a gambling addiction," Caron noted. "So we've adopted the recommendation of the bishop, absolutely."
Elk Island Catholic, which serves Sherwood Park, Camrose, Vegreville and Fort Saskatchewan, has been discussing the gambling issue with the archbishop for at least six months.
"So this is nothing new," said board chair Tony Sykora from Sherwood Park. He noted Archbishop Thomas Collins issued a letter to school boards and other Catholic stakeholders about the evils of gambling during his time in Edmonton.
Of the 16 schools in Elk Island Catholic, seven have taken part in casino fundraisers in the past three years. They have raised close to $170,000.
Will they quit soon? "We are in the early stages of that discussion and that certainly will continue on rather shortly," Sykora said.
In Elk Island district, parent councils, not the school board, decide on the type of fundraising. Typically schools purchased playground items, sports equipment and library items with gambling revenues, Sykora said. "We were very careful we weren't purchasing the essential educational items with that."
How would you replace those funds? "Organizations would have to become creative in raising funds," he replied. "I'm not trying to say it's going to be easy but there are ways to do it."
He pointed to the example of his Knights of Columbus council, which gave up casinos and is now making more revenue from a Valentine's Day dance than it did from casinos.
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