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De La Salle raises more than $400k with online fundraiser

By: Maria Allard | Warren Weekly | Published July 2, 2020

 De La Salle Collegiate High School Major Gift Officer Greg Esler, left, and Brother Ken Kalinowski recently held the online fundraiser Bridge The Gap to help raise money for student tuition assistance. The virtual fundraiser raised over $400,000.

De La Salle Collegiate High School Major Gift Officer Greg Esler, left, and Brother Ken Kalinowski recently held the online fundraiser Bridge The Gap to help raise money for student tuition assistance. The virtual fundraiser raised over $400,000.

Photo by Deb Jacques

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WARREN — Each year, De La Salle Collegiate High School holds three fundraisers: the Christian Brothers’ Dinner, the Christian Brothers’ Auxiliary of De La Salle Collegiate Fashion Show and the annual classic golf outing.

The three events usually raise a total of $327,000 to help students who attend the all-boys Catholic high school with tuition costs.

However, because of the COVID-19 outbreak, all three events were canceled this year, leaving some families in a tight spot who rely on financial aid for tuition.

That’s when Greg Esler, the school’s major gift officer, came up with the idea for “Bridge The Gap,” an online campaign designed to garner donations. It’s the first online fundraiser the school has ever held.

School officials set a goal of raising $500,000, and at press time, it had raised $410,015. The campaign ran until June 30. Esler said it’s the single largest fundraising effort in the school’s 94-year history.

“We had a great team effort,” said Esler, also the school’s varsity basketball coach. “Our advancement team and our marketing team were outstanding.”

The advancement team included Esler, Linda Fraschetti, Amy Seiferlein and Vicki Granger. Bill Roose and Kevin Fitzhenry composed the marketing team. To draw attention to the fundraiser, campaign organizers broadcasted a virtual program every evening from June 8-12 that highlighted various aspects of the school.

Those highlights included information about the annual dinner and this year’s honoree (Gary Buslepp), the fashion show and golf outing, details about the tuition assistance program and more. One night, a group gathered to play “Jeopardy!” On the final night, the broadcast was dedicated to the class of 2020.

Greg Shea, class of 1983 graduate, hosted the virtual program all five nights.

“It was fun,” he said. “I was happy to do it.”

Shea said he was “thrilled” to learn the fundraiser has garnered as much money as it has.

“It was great to see the commitment from the alumnus,” Shea said. “It’s hard to do when you’re faced with the challenges of trying to create a fundraising campaign and then you have to execute the idea. It was nicely done.”

Shea has fond memories of attending De La Salle, which is why he continues to support the school today. His dad graduated from De La Salle in 1949, and his two brothers graduated in 1975 and 1978.

Esler said students who seek financial aid must fill out various information when applying.

“The tuition amount is based on the family needs,” Esler said.

The fundraiser included a matching gift challenge made possible by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan CEO and 1975 alumnus Dan Loepp and his wife Amy. They pledged $25,000 if the school was able to raise the same amount by June 12.

During the 2019-20 school year, De La Salle had an enrollment of 670 students. So far, for the 2020-21 school year, 600 students have enrolled.

Because of the COVID-19 outbreak, in mid-March Gov. Gretchen Whitmer closed all schools — public, private, parochial and boarding — until the end of the 2019-20 school year. Students, including those who attend De La Salle, continued with their schooling online.

“One of our alumnus said it was a rough landing for the class of 2020,” Esler said. “Our students still got a quality education, even if it was online. They learned in life sometimes things don’t go your way.”

According to a statement on the De La Salle website, the Archdiocese of Detroit predicts that 20% of current students receiving financial aid will need more. In addition, some students not currently receiving financial aid will require it in the 2020-21 academic year.

“The need is great — especially with COVID, the need is as great as ever,” said Brother Ken Kalinowski, adding that because of the pandemic, some families may seek tuition assistance for the first time this year. “Mr. Esler is modest. It was his  drive that pushed Bridge The Gap. This is a testament to his hard work and the dedication of our alumni.”

Kalinowski, who teaches theology, graduated from De La Salle in 1984. He supplemented his high school education by working for $2.51 an hour at Buddy’s Pizza at Six Mile Road and Conant Street in Detroit. During his senior year, Kalinowski received a scholarship to continue his education.

He knows the importance of raising funds to help students who need financial assistance.

“I was extremely grateful,” he said. “If we can offer financial assistance, that’s what we are called to do.”

To make a donation to Bridge The Gap, visit p2p.onecause.com/delasalle.

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