A year ago, Jennifer and Frank Feola were excited about the arrival of their third child, Daniel. Just a day after his Oct. 7, 2016 birth, he was diagnosed with a serious heart ailment that required a lengthy hospitalization.
The couple’s other children, Frank, now 10, and Elena, 6½, were in fourth grade and kindergarten at Corpus Christi Academy in Lyndhurst. Frank Sr., who had advanced degrees and was an educator before changing careers a few years ago to work with his father, helped facilitate the merger of Sacred Heart of Jesus and St. Clare schools. It was the first year for the new school, said Ken Mitkavich, Corpus Christi principal. “He (Frank Sr.) was very involved with the school and the merger, serving on our steering committee and heading the academics committee. He even wrote our mission statement: “To Inspire, To Excel, To Serve,” Ken said.
“It was a stressful time for our family,” said Jen, a former teacher, recalling trips to the hospital to be with Daniel while trying to keep life normal for the other children. There also was concern about finances. She is a stay-at-home mom and a school volunteer.
Soon after Daniel was released from the hospital, his dad fell ill. Jen said they were devastated to learn that he had terminal cancer. Treatments were not successful and he died within a few weeks at age 40.
“His faith was amazing. He said he would win no matter what happened. ‘If I live, I’ll be with you and the kids; if I don’t I’ll be with Jesus,’” Jen said.
“We had lots of support after his death,” she said. “The teachers, principal, staff and the kids’ classmates were amazing, offering tremendous support during the first year if the new school. The extra help and assistance we received was great. It’s hard to accept the support, but sometimes you need to,” she said. “It’s a real family here at Corpus Christi.”
Jen said she kept Ken and the teachers and school staff informed of the family’s situation so they would be aware if Frank Jr. and Elena were having a difficult time. After her husband’s death, she wrote a letter requesting reconsideration for tuition assistance. “We were getting by before, but after Daniel’s medical needs and then Frank’s, it was hard,” she said. She also wanted to keep stability in her older children’s lives since they had friends at school and liked their teachers.
“I remember reading her letter and knew that we needed to find a way to help. We were able to take a deeper look into their situation and provide tuition assistance for the following school year based on the changes that had occurred since she initially applied,” said Melanie Galizio, diocesan tuition assistance coordinator.
Additionally, families can apply for emergency assistance in the event of a life-altering financial hardship, which is separate from Diocesan Tuition Assistance. The application process opens in November and runs through May 1. The school principal must request the application from Cindy Williams, special scholarship and emergency assistance coordinator. Funds from the Catholic Education Endowment Trust are used to help families.
“There is a separate pool of finances if a family has a job loss, illness or other emergency situation,” Melanie said. “The important thing is for families to keep the school informed of their situation. We’re trying to get the word out that there is help available for special circumstances.”
“It’s comforting to know that you have so many people in your corner,” Jen said. “My family is so thankful for what we’ve received and we want to give back.”
For more information on diocesan tuition assistance programs, contact Melanie at 216-696-6525, Ext. 1032.