A Brief History of Vision of Hope
The Dominican Sisters Vision of Hope operates solely to provide quality, affordable Catholic education for the children of their inner-city elementary schools and to ensure a vibrant future for these schools and the communities they serve.
The Birth of a Dream
How are dreams conceived? Where do visions get birthed? Like children, dreams do not spring forth fully developed. They tease, they offer glimpses, they invite reflection to be understood and appreciated. They require hope to become reality. Who dreams these dreams? The creative, the committed, those willing to risk. Come and reflect on a vision, born as a dream. Witness the dreamers. Look at Vision of Hope and its birthing process.
The genesis of the dream began in November 1876 when three very young Dominican Sisters traveled by train from New York at the request of Archbishop Joseph Alemany. The bishop, a Dominican himself, was looking for teachers to instruct the children in San Francisco. Within three days of their arrival, the Sisters were teaching at St. Boniface parish in San Francisco.
The Sisters’ ministry grew. Other women of various nationalities were drawn to join the Sisters, and parishes begged them to come and start schools. Settling on property in Mission San Jose, property made available by the archbishop, the Sisters formed a new community that eventually expanded throughout California, into Oregon, Arizona, Mexico, and even Germany. Their foundress Mother Pia Backes was committed to the highest quality education for all children regardless of income. One hundred and thirty-four years later, her Dominican Sisters still share her dream.
Every five years the Sisters gather in a Convocation to dream dreams, to address and plan for their community and its various ministries. When they began preparations, two years in advance, for their Convocation in 1995, a real concern surfaced among the members preparing the proposals for educational ministry. Studies begun in 1991 looked at the difference development programs meant in the resources available to schools. The results clearly indicated that schools without systematic development programs in these competitive economic times lagged behind those with programs and directors. Obviously the poorest schools could not afford the luxury of development directors; and the principals were already struggling to manage the schools and pay the bills. Parents and neighborhoods were stressed with economic realities and the rising violence that stalks poverty and despair. The vision at the time promised closures of the most at-risk schools within ten years.
The education committee proposed that the entire community birth a plan that would set up development offices to assist the survival of eight of the inner city Dominican schools in Los Angeles and San Francisco. It was a daring and risky suggestion. It meant calling on the foundation funds of the sisters, many of whom were already in or facing their retirement years. It meant everyone would have to sacrifice for the dream, the vision. The presentations before the congregation were passionate, well planned, documented, and enthusiastically embraced. Within the womb of the community the Vision of Hope for these schools and their children and families was birthed. The vote was unanimous. As a body the 180 present stood in a standing ovation.
As the Dominican Sisters school development consultant, Sister John Martin explained that development meant not simply fund-raising, it meant friend-raising. Sister was named overall director and coordinator. The congregation agreed to provide seed grants to staff three regional offices for three years. Together with the principals of the eight campuses: Sacred Heart, St. Ignatius, Santa Teresita, St. Frances Cabrini, and St. Michael in Los Angeles, St. James and Saint Anthony and Immaculate Conception Elementary in San Francisco, Sister John Martin began the process of development. A Steering Committee was added in February 1997 to assist Sister John Martin and the principals with some of the initial steps. The first regional director Ruben Longoria was hired in Los Angeles in December, 1996; Marie Driscoll, an alum, started the San Francisco office in September, 1997. Sister Barbara Larner, O.P. began the South Central office in Los Angeles in January, 1998.
The development team began “friend-raising” immediately with a statewide Advisory Board, chaired by Rob and Joanne Smith. Its members number over thirty community leaders from various walks of life, all dreamers who have grown to cherish the children of the Vision of Hope schools. The members of the Advisory Board, together with the development team, have started school development boards to encourage local involvement and the development of active alumni associations. Since the average age of the schools is over 75 years there are many who have benefited from their Dominican experience.
Between 1997 and 2002, the development team, together with friends, has raised over three and a half million dollars to directly benefit the schools. Long deferred maintenance is being addressed at each school, computer labs and resources were upgraded, educational options and resources expanded, and much tuition assistance provided. Parents and children are all involved and grateful for the dedication and love shown to them.
In 1999, the Advisory Board decided it was time to ensure the future of each school. With that goal in mind, Vision of Hope entered a new phase: Endowment. The Advisory Board committed itself to dreaming bigger dreams, dreams of hope where every child who wants one can hope for a quality Dominican education.
The Dominican Sisters Vision of Hope incorporated in 2000. Campaign leadership volunteered in both northern and southern California and as of July 2000 the campaign was off and running for the next five years!
The first goal of the endowment was $8 million (allocating $1 million per school to generate at least $50,000 for annual tuition assistance). This was met in July 2005, after a “miracle challenge grant” raised momentum (or sparked) to bring in the last $800,000 in just three months time. All campaign costs were funded by an anonymous foundation, thus allowing every dollar given to be invested in our children.
As of June 2007, the endowment has reached $8.9 million in cash and pledges. For the first three years, each school received $10,000 as pledges were being fulfilled. In 2005, grants tripled and each school received the targeted $50,000 — a real cause for celebration.
Yet dreams continue and school and family needs in the inner city continue to escalate. Vision of Hope’s Advisory Board is now giving leadership to a Planned Giving Campaign in conjunction with that of the Dominican Sisters’ Congregation. Planned and deferred gifts will keep the endowment growing and assist more families to provide a Dominican education for their children.
The Vision of Hope continues to dream the dreams born in the community of the Dominican Sisters of Mission San Jose. It continues to invite friends to visit the children and fall in love with their smiling faces, the very mirror of hope for the future—theirs and ours. Dare to dream with us.