The 25 community grants awarded by the Catholic Foundation in 2018 are empowering local organizations to meet needs in new ways. One of the recipients in the inaugural competitive grants process was St. Mary Catholic Central High School of Monroe (SMCC).The St. Andre Bessette Open Door Inclusion Program is a new initiative that enables students with moderate to severe learning disabilities to experience the spiritual, communal, and educational benefits of a Catholic secondary education at SMCC.

Previously, SMCC had created an Academic Support program that included specialized staff and curriculum to serve students with mild to moderate learning disabilities. Over 40 students participate in that program, but a full inclusion program had long been a dream for the school administration. The Besette Inclusion program will further expand the kind of learner the school can serve.

“Now, for the first time, we are able to welcome students like Jacob Goda. Jacob has Down Syndrome. He comes from an incredible family who has a long history with our Catholic schools. Until now, a student like Jacob would not have been able to experience the same Catholic secondary education that his parents or two siblings were able to have,” shares Sean Jorgensen, SMCC President.

“Support from the Catholic Foundation and other generous donors has enabled us to hire an educator trained in special education and create an inclusion program that will lead to a certificate of completion,” Sean adds. The grant from the Catholic Foundation will cover the cost of bringing in national experts to provide training for the faculty and staff on building a full inclusion program.

The program will provide its students with the personalized, one-on-one teaching they need while also being able to learn in some traditional classroom settings. A unique Peer Mentoring program will allow other students to serve as mentors in the classroom to inclusion students, gaining experience that can serve those interested in education, the social sciences, or other future careers.

SMCC is the first Catholic high school in the state of Michigan to offer a high school experience to students with moderate to severe cognitive and learning challenges. Michigan Catholic and private schools are prohibited from receiving funds from the State of Michigan that private schools in other states use to create these programs.

“Creating this program isn’t just about what we do. It’s about who we are called to be. The Gospel and our school’s mission call us to work remove educational and economic barriers that might otherwise prevent a family from choosing a Catholic education for their children. This effort will benefit not only inclusion students and their families, but our whole Catholic community,” Sean shares.

Community grants are made annually by the Catholic Foundation from the three Field of Interest restricted funds. Individuals or families, named or otherwise, can support these funds at the Foundation to benefit their communities today and for future generations. While impacting lives through the organizations they wish to support, donors benefit from the knowledge and expertise of professional Foundation staff, the maximum in tax benefits, and the assurance that the earnings from their investments will be utilized to further help their local Catholic community.

Below, Inclusion program student Jacob Goda and Principal Jason Linster offer their thanks.

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