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Big Shoulders Fund supports children in achieving dreams

By: Kellyn Vale Last Updated: August 6, 2020

Goals, dreams, destiny – however you define a person’s highest ambitions, everyone has them, and typically children are encouraged from a young age to pursue their life goals relentlessly. The foundation of dream-building often stems from access to one particular key resource: quality education. Unfortunately, many students in low-income areas don’t always have the opportunity to receive a quality education. In 1986, a group of business and civic leaders decided to change that by founding Big Shoulders Fund, a nonprofit organization supporting Catholic schools in the neediest areas of Chicago. Inspired by Joseph Cardinal Bernardin, Big Shoulders Fund has helped Chicago’s children in need achieve their dreams through access to a quality, values-based education for 34 years and the organization has since extended its reach to Northwest Indiana.

“We accomplish this by investing more than $30 million annually in scholarship support and academic enrichment for students, operational improvements for schools, leadership development programs for the next generation of school leaders, and academic programs and professional development for teachers,” said Josh Hale, President and CEO of Big Shoulders Fund. “We’ve seen a tremendous impact from our efforts, and the investments of many, on those we serve in Chicago, and we are thrilled to be able to expand our involvement to neighboring schools and communities in Northwest Indiana and to partner with the Catholic Diocese of Gary.”

Big Shoulders Fund is unique in that administrative expenses are supported by an endowment and other income, which ensures 100 percent of funds currently raised go toward programs that benefit Big Shoulders Fund schools and the students they serve. For 13 years in a row, Big Shoulders Fund has earned a four-star rating from Charity Navigator for operating efficiently and transparently, a status held by just one percent of charities.

In autumn 2019, a generous gift from Bruce White, Founder and Chairman of Merrillville, Indiana-based White Lodging, and his wife Beth, created an exciting new chapter for Big Shoulders Fund through the extension of its programming to Northwest Indiana. Through this commitment, the organization is bringing its unique approach to enhancing the capacity of school communities and supporting students and families to Northwest Indiana, with a special focus on areas of greatest need, including Gary, Hammond, and East Chicago.

“We are so excited to begin this initiative in Northwest Indiana and can’t wait to build relationships with anybody who wants to assist in making the quality of education better for our children,” said Dan Kozlowski, Regional Director for Big Shoulders Fund’s Northwest Indiana Initiative.

“The expansion of Big Shoulders Fund’s programming is made possible through the exclusive use of this generous gift, independent from Chicago program funding, totaling $16 million over the course of 10 years,” Kozlowski explained. “As a result of this gift, Big Shoulders Fund will be able to help even more schools and communities in need while also remaining fully committed to its network of schools in Chicago, where they have provided long-term academic and operational support for more than 30 years and invested nearly $400 million to date.”

Initially, the investment in Northwest Indiana most directly impacts approximately 3,300 students in 10 elementary and high schools in the Catholic Diocese of Gary by providing operational support and academic programming. An additional 10 schools with 2,600 students will benefit from professional development opportunities made available to teachers and administrators through this initiative.

“Fully funded by this donation, the focus is exclusively on bringing Big Shoulders Fund’s impactful programming to benefit children through increasing volunteerism and enhancing these schools serving high need communities in the White Family’s native Northwest Indiana,” Kozlowski said. “Employees of White Lodging have also committed to supporting the initiative through volunteerism and other involvement.”

Dr. Joe Majchrowicz, Superintendent of the Diocese of Gary Schools, is thrilled to see the partnership between Big Shoulders Fund and the Diocese expanding, noting Bruce and Beth White’s dedication to serving their community. Earlier this year for Father's Day, Big Shoulders Fund and the Diocese distributed over 10,000 meals to those in need, just one of the many ways this partnership has already positively impacted kids and their families.

"It's all about opportunity," Majchrowicz said. "It's about providing kids an opportunity for a good education when they may not otherwise have that opportunity. We have had scholarship assistance, professional development assistance for our staff and leaders, and more, allowing us to meet the needs of those we serve in Northwest Indiana."

The organization’s motto, “It takes big shoulders to carry a child’s dreams,” perfectly captures the purpose that drives Big Shoulders Fund, as well as the multifaceted efforts that go into fulfilling it.

Kozlowski said offices are located in downtown Chicago, but Big Shoulders Fund has a team actively working full-time here in Northwest Indiana. 

Community members interested in getting involved should reach out to Kozlowski or Gisele Jones, who will enthusiastically welcome them onto the volunteer team!

“In the future, there will be many opportunities to get involved in everything from tutoring to service projects in schools, to reading days,” he said.

“Big Shoulders Fund, together with our talented staff and generous donors, is dedicated to providing all children the opportunity to achieve their dreams through attending quality schools,” Kozlowski said. “To achieve this mission, we must be bold in our actions to work with our families, school leaders, and communities to keep our Catholic schools vibrant and healthy for generations to come!”

To learn more about Big Shoulders Fund, their mission, and how you can get involved, visit https://bigshouldersfund.org/.