High school mariachi performers set a festive tone for the Catholic Education Foundation donor appreciation dinner last week, where benefactors were honored for their support allowing a record number of tuition assistance recipients this year.The March 6 event at the Wilshire Country Club drew 100 guests and CEF “milestone” donors celebrating five, 10 and 15 years of sustained giving to the foundation, currently celebrating its 25th anniversary of providing tuition awards for low-income students to attend archdiocesan Catholic schools.“You have been very generous to us, and you share our belief that an excellent education in a Catholic school is really an advantage for life, especially for the poor and the marginalized in our society,” said Thomas Barron, president of CEF’s board of trustees. He noted that nearly 14,000 tuition assistance awards have been granted for the 2012-2013 school year, the most ever in the history of CEF. Since it was founded as a charitable trust by Cardinal Roger Mahony in 1987, CEF has provided a total of 132,000 tuition awards to elementary and high school students attending Catholic schools throughout the Archdiocese of Los Angeles with $136 million in funding.While tuition assistance is CEF’s primary focus, about 10 percent of the non-profit’s annual budget is allocated for Designated Programs, such as art classes, field trips, physical education classes, college counseling, equipment and books. This year, CEF partnered with other foundations, resulting in new efforts such as website development for elementary schools and the expansion of ongoing designated programs like Art Trek, which has increased its outreach from 10 to 21 Catholic elementary schools.“When you combine education with the religious training and the set of values that accompanies all these students as they go through our Catholic schools, that turns into wisdom and that wisdom turns these children into real leaders of our society,” said Barron. “You, our donors, are the benefactors of those students and for that, we thank you.”“Each one of us has a part to play in the Church’s mission, and the Catholic Education Foundation is one of the most beautiful expressions of the Church’s mission of love,” said Archbishop José Gomez. “Through this foundation, through your efforts, we are demonstrating God’s love and care for the world.”Commenting on CEF’s impressive number of student tuition award recipients this year funded with more than $16 million, the archbishop thanked the donors for their “incredible” generosity.“Because of you, these children have access to all those programs,” said Archbishop Gomez. “Through the Catholic Education Foundation, we are opening minds and hearts so that these children can grow to be the people God wants them to be. You are all making a difference in the lives of so many people.”Noting that she was likely one of the only principals in the archdiocese whose tenure at a Catholic elementary school began close to CEF’s founding, Mary Ann Murphy, in her 26th school year as principal at Immaculate Conception School in Los Angeles, shared that her entire school has benefitted from many of the foundation’s Designated Programs in addition to those students receiving tuition assistance.“We were one of the first schools in Art Trek, and it is my favorite day of the month,” said Murphy, noting that her school located in the inner city lacks resources for a specialized art teacher. CEF’s Big Yellow Bus program providing educational field trips, she noted, “gets our kids out of the Pico-Union area to a world that many of them have not experienced before.”The new Vision to Learn CEF partner program implemented last year provided eye glasses for more than 50 of Immaculate Conception’s students. “A lot of our families often have to choose between putting dinner on the table and putting glasses on their children,” said Murphy. “So many kids’ vision goes untended and Vision to Learn was an enormous gift to our school community.”“You have no idea what a difference you make in the lives of our children in the area of art, [field trip] experiences, literacy, tuition assistance and actually being able to see the board. Thank you very much on behalf of all of us who benefit.”“We believe in education and we think it’s important that these kids get an education,” said new CEF donor Dr. Mario Molina, attending the event with his wife, Therese. “So much of the money goes right to benefit the kids through their tuition and the results are fantastic: 98 percent graduate and 98 percent go on to college.”CEF five-year milestone donors, Evelyn and Roger Cusumano, told The Tidings that they have enjoyed supporting their “Cusumano Scholars,” a total of nearly 50 students who attend one of three inner-city Catholic elementary schools.“It’s very rewarding to watch our children grow, graduate and enter high school,” said Evelyn, who together with her husband guarantees tuition assistance to the Cusumano Scholars until they graduate from elementary school.“It’s been really fun,” said Roger. “These programs really accomplish something. There are very few failures and so many successes and in following it over the years, it’s the best investment we can make in their lives.”Sacred Heart High School freshman Elvia Romo, among four classmates from the Lincoln Heights school who greeted guests, said it was an honor to be at the donor appreciation dinner. “I’ve been a recipient of CEF since kindergarten, and if it wasn’t for CEF, I wouldn’t have the opportunity to get a Catholic education, so I feel really grateful for that,” said Romo.“Being at this event is really nice seeing the people who have helped pay for my education, because without the help I wouldn’t be able to attend a Catholic high school,” said Sacred Heart senior Angelina Chavarria. “They ask us questions about what we’re doing and it’s really nice to see that they care.”{gallery width=100 height=100}gallery/2013/0315/cef/{/gallery}