At St. Anthony Catholic School in Show Low, Arizona, it’s not uncommon to see parents wrapping up a long drive as they drop their children off for the day. In a small town surrounded by rural communities, one challenge for families is the cost of transportation, with many parents spending over an hour driving each day. Until now, a carpool managed by parents was the only shared manner of transportation, as many schools in the Diocese of Gallup are unable to afford the cost of school buses.
But thanks to a dedicated group of parents and volunteers and a grant from the Raskob Foundation, St. Anthony School may soon have a brand new school bus.
Chrissy Greer is one founder of the parents’ carpool group. She says it all started with a family vehicle and four students, and over the last six years grew into a 14 students and a 15-passenger van donated by Our Lady of the Assumption Church in Overgaard. Then the parents received word that their insurer, Catholic Mutual, would soon no longer be carry insurance for group vehicles with over 9 passengers unless the vehicle was a bus. So that’s when Greer decided that, as lofty a goal as it might be, she would write a grant applying for a new school bus.
But there was a catch – the Raskob Foundation would grant $35,000 is the school could match the same amount. With some help from Bob Higgins, founder of the school, and Bryan Yorksmith, principal, Greer put a fundraising plan into action.
“And Bob [Higgins] was so optimistic, he said ‘you know what, I know this guy in the valley, he’s a good friend of ours, he loves our school. He’s a comedian – maybe he can help us come up with something.’ And it just turned into this beautiful – it turned into this great fundraiser,” Greer said.
The “funraiser”, featuring three Arizona stand-up comedians, raised around $6000. An anonymous donor, after touring the school, later donated $20,000, including a large number of items that raised $7000 in raffle efforts.
“I keep telling everyone ‘God is just showing off now’”, Greer says with a laugh. “We’re $2000 shy, but we have until May of 2018, and I see us hitting it.”
Every day Greer drives 20-minutes one way to take her kids to school, and she knows all too well the effort required from transporting students. She and several other parents, and even the church deacon, take turns driving the group of 14 students to school. Diocesan Safe Environment standards require at least two adults to be present on each trip, and every driver has to receive a background check and be certified in VIRTUS, a national abuse and safety awareness program.
“I never thought I would be driving a whole herd of 14 kids – we look like the Partridge Family when we drive up to the school and unload,” Greer said. “We’ve always worked together as a team and we each drive two shifts a week to make it happen, and then we split the gas bill.”
This year the carpool group was filled to capacity – several families are on the waiting list. A new bus would relieve many families from the financial cost associated with transporting their own students to school.
“We have families that are really strapped, and I’d say that a lot of our families are low to middle income families, and so we have a couple families that can’t even pay that $30 a month for gas,” Greer said.
Part of the mission of Catholic Schools in the Diocese is to provide a quality education to students, and most Diocesan schools serve rural, working-class communities. When Greer first learned that her family lived near enough to a Catholic school for her children to attend, she recalls “bawling my eyes out”.
“You know, my family, we don’t make a whole lot. My husband works for the state – we’re just a hard-working, middle-class family,” she said. “And to be able to send our kids to a great education at St. Anthony’s…to a higher education where they’re getting challenged, they’re in a classroom where they’re getting that 1-on-1 education, it’s really exciting. And to see them excelling, and to see them learning about their faith, being able to talk about God in the classroom – we call St. Anthony’s one of our family’s biggest blessings.”
With the awarding of the grant, St. Anthony School has agreed cover the operational funds for the new 25-passenger school bus, and hire a CDL-certified driver to cover the bus route. In the future this may expand school attendance to families in surrounding communities like Whiteriver, Pinetop, and McNary.
But for now, with the school only $2000 away from their goal, a brand new bus so close within reach is victory enough for Greer.
“It’s definitely God. It’s just – it’s been really emotional, and just a really big faith builder, for my family and our parish, just to see how God just continually supports this and multiplies it.”