Community and Philanthropy

On Saturday I joined over 300 parents, colleagues, and friends of Catlin Gabel at our annual auction, held this year at the Portland Art Museum. It was a festive gathering, focused on fundraising for the school’s financial aid program, which currently supports 27% of the student body and accounts for $3.5 million or 19% of our total budget. While the final figures are not yet in, the event generated impressive support for this vital mission priority.

A highlight of the evening was remarks by one of our students, a talented junior whose Catlin Gabel experience has been made possible by financial aid. This remarkable young woman recently received a President's Volunteer Service Award, presented on behalf of President Obama. This award recognizes Americans who have volunteered a significant amount of time to serve their communities and country.  In sharing her personal story of achievement, she inspired those in attendance and brought to life the importance of funding access to deserving children from all over Portland.

Independent schools like Catlin Gabel are expensive. Even so, tuition alone does not fund small classes, remarkable teachers, and learning experiences and programs on a well-equipped campus with exemplary facilities, playing fields, and woods. Our business model depends on fundraising and endowment income to fund the $2.7 million gap between tuition revenue and our operating expenses. Rather than further increase tuition to cover that gap, every year we rely on the generosity of families and friends to make tax-deductible donations.

As we seek to create an equitable school community, we recognize that not all families can afford to attend or support the annual auction, or make significant capital gifts. Some may argue that an equitable school community should not offer activities that are exclusive due to cost. I take a pragmatic view on this issue. Our school already is exclusive by virtue of its price. I appreciate that Catlin Gabel families and friends with means understand both the educational value of economic diversity in the classroom and are eager to fund it. As I sat at the auction last weekend, I did not see families seeking status or an exclusive social opportunity; I saw dedicated families who love Catlin Gabel and want that educational opportunity to be possible for talented children, regardless of means. That’s motivation I appreciate and support.

Equity does not mean equal. We offer a wide variety of ways for families to connect with each other and contribute to the community throughout the year. For some families that may mean a PFA role, for others it’s volunteering on a weekend or evening. We deeply appreciate every form of support from our families, knowing it is critical to the success of our community. 

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