OLEAN — Archbishop Walsh Academy and Southern Tier Catholic School officials may describe their annual March fundraiser as a “big party,” but they also know the serious role it plays in keeping the private Catholic schools operating.
The Catholic campus’ St. Patrick’s Day Party and Raffle returns Saturday night, as staff, alumni, parents and community members will celebrate with drinks, food, music and raffle drawings. Officials say the event, one of the school’s two major fundraising parties, typically raises anywhere from $80,000 to $100,000.
“We all join hands together and work to raise money and have a good time,” said Thomas Manko, Archbishop Walsh Academy and Southern Tier Catholic School president and principal.
Organizers such as Theresa Smith and Athletic Director Pete Ebert are currently coordinating the event’s food, drinks and volunteers, and on Friday will start to transform the school gym and cafeteria into a party setting.
Ebert said the St. Patrick’s Day Party is the “casual counterpart” to the more formal Eagles Gala Auction held in the gym every fall. While the event is supposed to end at 11 p.m., attendees often hang around for another hour and a half conversing and swapping stories.
“It’s just a big party,” Ebert said.
The highlight of the night is the drawing for the $20,000 grand prize. In total, $34,000 in prizes will be given away Saturday.
“It’s pretty neat to watch the winner’s reaction if they’re in the audience,” Manko said. “It’s as much fun to watch the seller of the ticket respond. They’re saying, ‘By gosh, I sold the winning ticket.’ That’s neat.”
The party’s roots go back to the mid-1980s, where it started off as a sports boosters event. The party, while still donating its first $10,000 to the sports boosters for uniforms and equipment, now serves all aspects of the school.
“It started off very humble, very low key, and not critical in terms of fundraising, but over the years it’s just grown,” Manko said, “We use it for all facets of operating the school, it helps us pay the bills and it also helps us provide scholarships for kids to be able to come here.”
The fundraiser is fairly large compared to Catholic schools of similar size.
“I’ve been to some meetings with people from other schools and I’ve said, ‘We do this (fundraiser) every year and we give out $20,000.’ And they go, ‘How on Earth can you give out that much money?’” Ebert said. “They don’t do ones this big, so it really is one to be proud of.”
The support the event garners still amazes Ebert.
“We definitely wouldn’t survive without the help that we get from all over — alumni, parents, some community members that aren’t even affiliated directly — we get a lot of help,” he said.
Manko said it’s important for Olean to have an “alternative choice” for education.
“We serve a population of students that come here for a variety of reasons, but the Catholicism and academic excellence are two reasons why,” he said. “We have a very good relationship with the public schools — our students flow in and out. We serve some students probably more effectively than some of the publics, but it can also work in the other way.
“The bottom line is you have an alternative choice of a Catholic school that gives people another venue to gain a solid education and then springboard into college.”
The St. Patrick’s Day Party will run from 7 to 11 p.m. Saturday at North 24th Street campus. Tickets cost $100, and admit two people into the party and cover food and drinks.
(Contact reporter Tom Dinki at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter, @tomdinki)