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Increased access to technology. Curriculum support. Data coaching. Financial aid.

A $16 million investment over the next decade from White Lodging founder and Chairman Bruce White and his wife, Beth White, will help bring all of this and more to the Region through a community partner new to Northwest Indiana.

The Big Shoulders Fund, a Chicago-based nonprofit specializing in educational programming and development in Catholic schools, will provide on-the-ground support to help make these efforts possible in North Lake County’s Catholic schools, looking first to serve the families of Gary, Hammond and East Chicago communities.

The White family and Big Shoulders Fund have worked together for more than a decade, rallying volunteers to mentor students in Chicago’s Catholic community and helping establish STEM learning programs at Big Shoulders Fund’s annual summer Staddle Camp at the White family-owned Brush Creek Ranch in Saratoga, Wyoming.

Bruce White, a Region native, said the expansion to Northwest Indiana was a natural fit.

“It was very simple because I fundamentally believe that every child is entitled to a high-quality education,” White said. “For those who can’t find that in public education, we want to help provide access to Catholic schools.”

Big Shoulders Fund

Big Shoulders Fund, founded by Chicago business and civic leaders in 1986, has embedded its network of mentors, tutors, coaches and more in 75 Catholic Chicago schools serving nearly 20,000 children.

Big Shoulders President and CEO Josh Hale said the independent charitable organization serves a twofold purpose: to provide resources for access and enrichment among students in communities with the highest need.

Eighty percent of those served by Big Shoulders are minority students and 66% live in poverty, according to data provided by the organization.

“This is an exciting opportunity to reach more children,” Hale said of moving into Northwest Indiana. “We’re beginning a process of getting to know the needs of the community, the diocese and its schools.”

In its Chicago partner schools, Big Shoulders Fund provides mentoring and tutoring services, increased access to technology, data-driven instructional supports, professional development, leadership training and more.

The organization places an emphasis not only on surpassing national benchmarks, but also on developing individuals who are well-rounded and civically engaged, Hale said.

And, the organization has seen results.

Big Shoulders Fund students in grades four through eight outperformed national averages in all subjects tested in 2017’s ACT Aspire exam — a series of summative and periodic assessments given in Chicago’s Catholic schools to track student proficiency. 

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Big Shoulders Fund also upholds a 94% high school graduation rate in its Chicago-area schools compared to the Illinois state average 85% in 2018.

“It’s all about outcome,” Bruce White said of his family’s decision to partner with the organization. “At Big Shoulders Fund, success is in their DNA.”

Moving into Northwest Indiana

The new partnership between Big Shoulders Fund and the Diocese of Gary, unveiled publicly on Friday, marks a major milestone its organizers say they hope is a catalyst for future growth and community engagement.

“We see this as just the beginning,” said Joe Majchrowicz, director of Catholic schools for the Gary diocese. “We are very excited about the support to continue to add to the effectiveness of the Catholic schools of Northwest Indiana.”

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Big Shoulders Fund and Diocese of Gary officials first began discussions about a year ago to bring the organization’s resources to Northwest Indiana.

Through the Bruce and Beth White Family Foundation’s investment, Big Shoulders Fund is expected to bring operational and academic support most directly to 10 elementary and high schools in the Diocese of Gary, reaching approximately 3,300 students.

Those 10 schools will include: St. Stanislaus School in East Chicago; St. Mary School in Griffith; Bishop Noll Institute, St. Casimir School and St. John Bosco School in Hammond; Our Lady of Grace School in Highland; Andrean High School and Aquinas School at St. Andrew’s in Merrillville; St. Thomas More School in Munster; and St. John the Baptist School in Whiting.

Students of these schools will receive Big Shoulders Fund financial aid opportunities, including access to STEM scholarships and summer programs.

The diocese’s 10 remaining schools also will receive support through professional development programs provided by Big Shoulders Fund.

Rebecca Lindsay-Ryan, Big Shoulders Fund senior director of academic programs and external affairs, said her team will begin by assessing programs already in place in Diocese of Gary schools to determine where Big Shoulders Fund support will be most effective.

The organization then plans to seek the support of local business leaders and volunteers to engage in tutoring and mentoring opportunities.

Bruce White, whose White Lodging hotel management company is headquartered in Merrillville, said he sees his foundation’s donation as an investment not only in education, but in bringing together the community and attracting young professionals to find their place in the Region.

“We hope this gives young professionals an opportunity to get engaged in a really vibrant organization,” White said. “We’re hoping to provide Northwest Indiana the same experience we had.”

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Education Reporter

Carley Lanich covers education in Lake County and throughout the Region. She comes to Northwest Indiana from Indianapolis and is an IU-Bloomington grad.