St. Mary's starts tuition assistance program
December 2, 2004
If there is a will, there is a way. That is what Storm Lake St. Mary's parents found when faced with tuition hikes and budget cuts during the 2003-2004 school year.
Answering a need, St. Mary's School and Parish launched a new tuition assistance program for the 2004-2005 school year with overwhelming success its first week out. St. Mary's families banked over $600 into their tuition accounts with a new program called Scrip.
Five St. Mary's moms took on the challenge to get the project rolling. Kay Broich, Jane Besaw, Kay Lenhart, Karen Murray and Cindy Wells have been meeting for the last several months during their free time to research Scrip and present the idea to businesses and school families.
Known nationally, Scrip is a fundraising program that generates millions of dollars for non-profit organizations. Using a basic premise of purchasing gift cards and gift certificates from national and local retailers and businesses, the program allows participants to make their everyday purchases while banking a percentage of those purchases into a tuition assistance account at St. Mary's.
"Scrip has been implemented with great success at other private schools in northwest Iowa like Remsen St. Mary's, Carroll Kuemper and Granville-Spalding," said committee member Kay Lenhart. "With direction from the development director at Granville-Spalding, we put together a group of parents to research the benefits and it all fell together."
The foundation of the program is simple. Merchants involved with the program offer a discount from two percent to 25 percent, which is returned to the school. Seventy-five percent of the discount goes into participants' accounts, while the remaining 25 percent goes toward program expenses.
"If a family averages $200 worth of orders each week, buying Scrip from local merchants for their everyday purchases, over $400 can be accumulated per school year-and we're seeing today that is on a low average," stated Karen Murray. "One family brought in over $1,000 of Scrip orders and put over $100 in their tuition account in just one week."
With the first order under their belt, the committee was thrilled with the initial response. Over $11,500 worth of Scrip was ordered from 36 families.
Jane Besaw calculated that $7,500 was to local Storm Lake businesses and that $4,000 went to national retail purchases. "It is our goal to get people to the local businesses first."
More than 60 families have already enrolled in the program and the committee is confident that as parishioners and community members become educated about the benefits, orders will increase, especially with Christmas approaching. "I myself will have a bigger order next time as we are getting closer to the holidays," added Besaw.
The ease of the program is that there is no additional cost and anyone can purchase Scrip. Friends, family and coworkers can place orders and have their 'earnings' put into a family's account or into the school's tuition assistance fund. Participants are generating tuition assistance on purchases they would make anyway.
Businesses who participate agree to offer a discount of two to 25 percent, with the discount going back to St. Mary's School. The committee collects orders Monday mornings and Scrip is delivered the same week.
So far, seven Storm Lake merchants are signed up and more are anticipated to join.
"We initially contacted some core businesses in Storm Lake to get an idea of how merchants would respond to this idea," said Kay Lenhart. "Bomgaars, Wal-Mart, One Stop Shop, Midtown, Abner Bell's Coffeehouse, Iowa Office Supply and Casey's signed up and we hope to see more on board by the end of the year."
Bomgaars manager Dennis Gorde had no hesitations when asked to participate. "I think it is a very favorable program. It is good for us and for the school."
Letters were recently sent to chamber member businesses in the Storm Lake area outlining the benefits of becoming a Scrip retailer. One additional plus for merchants is that they receive cash up front for Scrip purchased.
Anyone who does not have a student enrolled at St. Mary's, but would like to support the school and its educational goals are welcome to enroll in Scrip, as well as family, friends and coworkers of enrollees.
To find out more about how to enroll in Scrip as a merchant or a participant, information is available at the St. Mary's website: www.stmarys-storm.pvt.k12.ia.us.
The Catholic Schools of Sioux City also uses Scrip.