College Foundation helps build bridges

By Laura Bollin

Without the help of the Moraine Valley Community College Foundation, Palos Hills resident John Francey wouldn't have been able to realize his dream of attending college.

Come fall, he will be majoring in criminology and psychology at the University of Illinois-Chicago. Francey, 45, said he is grateful for the foundation's help.

"I'm not your average college student," he said. "I'm a little older than some of the students and some of my professors. I knew the road to gaining an education was not going to be an easy one. I didn't want to just give up because I thought it cost too much."

With the encouragement of his family, Francey applied for scholarships. He is the 2012 recipient of the Sandra Broadbend Scholarship.

"It was a huge honor and relief when I learned I had gotten the scholarship," Francey said. "The scholarship gave me [financial] breathing room. I didn't have to worry about money, I could focus on my studies and not how I was going to pay my bills."

Since the Moraine Valley Community College Foundation began its "Foundation for Success" fundraising campaign in 2008, it has raised $2.8 million. For the final year of the campaign, which ends this year, the challenge is to raise an additional $500,000. The original goal of the campaign was to raise $3 million, but that goal has been bumped to $3.5 million by the end of the year.

At a luncheon celebration Jan. 25, the foundation revealed a glass donor wall in the lobby of the Moraine Valley Business and Conference Center on the Palos Hills campus. The wall lists the names of just more than 300 donors, including the Chicago Blackhawks, which donated $250,000 to the school. The wall was designed by Moraine Valley creative design coordinator Laurie Hoffinger.

Foundation executive director Sue Linn said the funding has provided help for students, including funding for the Performing and Fine Arts Center and has also sent members of the school's soccer and volleyball teams to Europe to play in the intercollegiate games. The foundation helps fund student scholarships and emergency assistance programs, for students who are struggling to stay in school. The foundation also helped fund the Education and Wellness Center, a $34.5 million, 115,000-squarefoot health and wellness facility that will feature a four-lane lap pool, three full-size basketball courts, a fitness center, an indoor walking track, group exercise studios, locker rooms, and an area for a healthcare provider to offer health-related programs and services to community members. The center, which broke ground on Jan. 10, is expected to be completed in 2014.

Assistant foundation director Kari Pantol said it has been amazing how much the Foundation has been able to raise in the five years of the campaign so far.

"It's a celebration of how far we've come and a challenge to push the rest of the way through," Pantol said. "We are really proud of what everyone together has been able to do."

College president Sylvia Jenkins said the fundraising campaign and the college's students are an inspiration to her.

"Sometimes, people are the first in their family to go to college," Jenkins said. "Sometimes, they are parents returning to college, or are those who have a lifelong dream of getting an education, and this is their second chance. All of our students have a unique story, and we are inspired by each of them."

Palos Heights resident Maria DeCaprio-Sunta, an artist, Moraine Valley Community College board of trustees member and alum of the college, said she believes a Moraine education is life-changing.

"I can't imagine this area without the college as a resource," DeCaprio-Sunta said. "It makes education available for every person."

Palos Hills Mayor Jerry Bennett said the college is an important part of Palos Hills.

"Moraine Valley Community College is the economic engine of Palos Hills," Bennett said. "With 20,000 students on campus every day, it doubles our population. The foundation has been a great support to the college, with its support of the Fine and Performing Arts Center and the scholarship programs they offer students."