For Melissa Polio, whose three daughters attend Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Louisville, Catholic education has been a godsend.
Polio said the academic rigor, spiritual opportunities and classroom mentors, coupled with the support of Community Catholic Center have made an “amazing journey” for her family.
Community Catholic Center, located in Lehmann Hall at Good Shepherd Church in Portland, provides access to Catholic education for children who live in West Louisville, where there are no Catholic schools.
The 2019-2020 academic year marks the center’s 17th year of supporting West End families in their pursuit of Catholic education, said Heidi Hamilton, executive director.
Four years ago, the center supported 48 students in prekindergarten to 12th-grade who attended seven Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Louisville and Southern Indiana.
Now the center assists 111 students in 14 archdiocesan schools, including: Mary Queen of Peace Preschool, St. Lawrence Preschool, Immaculata Classical Academy, Notre Dame and St. Nicholas academies and St. James, St. Leonard and St. Paul schools.
Students also attend Assumption, Holy Cross, St. Xavier and Trinity high schools, as well as Mercy and Presentation academies.
The center opened in 2003 after the last Catholic school in West Louisville closed. It was born from the closure of Community Catholic School, a regional institution created in 1971 by the closure of St. Cecilia, St. Anthony and Our Lady schools. Louisville’s West End is generally characterized as west of Ninth Street and north of Algonquin Parkway.
Hamilton announced the plan to increase enrollment in the spring of 2015. At the time, Hamilton said she wanted to assist more children who lived in the impoverished area. Part of that effort was to get the word out about the center and the Catholic Education Foundation, which provides tuition assistance to families seeking a Catholic education.
The biggest factor in the center’s growth has been word-of-mouth referrals from current families.
“It’s because families are happy with their Catholic school and the services they receive here and want to share that joy with others,” Hamilton said.
Polio, a mother of twin daughters who attend sixth-grade at Notre Dame and a junior at Presentation, said Catholic schools have made all the difference in her family. She’s a registered nurse living with her husband and children in the Portland neighborhood. The center’s staff and volunteers have empowered them as parents, she said.
“Their support has meant everything. It’s comforting to know if you ever need anything or someone to talk to, the resources are there,” she said. “They are a friend right in our own backyard.”
She added: “Their support is second to none.”
Menesha Smith, a parent of two boys, agreed.
“They have been so supportive with anything I need. They’ve guided me in the right direction and really helped me find the right fit for my younger son,” she said.
Smith’s son Royal is a third-grader at St. James. Her older son, Mekhi, is a sophomore at St. Xavier.
Smith said she explored Catholic schools because she wanted her boys to have more opportunities for their future.
“I wanted them to see life differently, to not get stuck in one situation,” she said.
The smaller class sizes at St. James have been a particular benefit for her younger son, who requires more one-on-one attention, she said.
Hamilton said the staff of the center work closely with each family to ensure they have the resources for their child to be successful in school. And, that goes far beyond financial assistance, Hamilton said.
The center provides tuition assistance, with the help of the CEF; support services, such as tutoring and homework help; and family counseling sessions. Each family pays a portion of their child’s tuition and is expected to attend service opportunities and parenting workshops, Hamilton said.
“We want to walk this journey with our families, but we do expect attendance at meetings, service opportunities and family growth workshops,” she said.
Five individuals work part-time at the center, including Hamilton. Linda Greenwell is the director of education. Mary Ellen Hilbert is the intervention coordinator. Vern Rickert serves as the counselor, and Rae Giuffre works as the office manager.
Their work is supported by about 45 volunteers, and the center is always looking for more, Hamilton added.