Groups of both the entering class of scholars (left) and the graduating class (right) are presented with awards.
For some students, getting an education from a private institution simply isn’t a possibility. Often, the reason is prohibitive tuition costs to attend private and religiously affiliated schools. One local parish, St. John Vianney in Gladwyne, is out to change that.
Led by Main Line resident Michael Greenly, the parish started a scholarship program four years ago to sponsor top ranking students from the inner city to attend parochial high schools. The scholarship covers roughly half of school tuition, offering $3,000 per student each year, for the duration of high school, as well as guidance through an independent academic counselor who helps students navigate exams like the SAT and ACT, concerns with classes and even helps guide them through the college application process.
Greenly, a born Lutheran who converted to Catholicism when he married his wife, took charge of the SJV Scholars program, wanting to branch charitable giving in a somewhat new direction. Taking cues and advice from the Conshohocken-based Connelly Foundation, which has a similar, albeit larger goal, Greenly and a small group set out to help support the education of students, believing it a worthy cause both they and their parish could support.
“If someone gets a great education, years later, they pay it back in terms of giving back to their community, be it on the local level, in Philadelphia or at their parishes. We didn’t want it to be a short-term impact; we wanted it to change lives and make a real impact not just on the child but on the community these children are from,” Greenly says.
The program is fully funded by the St. John Vianney parish, and scholarships are awarded strictly based on merit. They chose to focus on the inner city of Philadelphia, based on the Office of Catholic Educations’ districting, which extends from Roxborough to Port Richmond, covering both north and south Philadelphia. Students are selected based on scores on the Neumann Scholars Test given to eighth grade students in a parish school who qualify and wish to sit the exam. The exam is administered by the Connelly Foundation, which also selects scholars. Those scoring the highest marks and living in the appropriate districts are then offered scholarships. As of this year, SJV Scholars has offered roughly eight scholarships each year and will continue to do so.
Michael Greenly (left) and Cosmo DeNicola (right) pose with a student as she receives her scholarship award.
This June marks a milestone for the program, which has its first graduating class. One of those students is Kristen Adamczyk, a senior at Little Flower High School in Philadelphia. “I’ll never forget how excited I was and how excited my parents were—it was such a relief for them,” she says of being awarded the scholarship. For each recipient, Greenly, and sometimes a small group of parishioners, visits the schools to present the scholarship. Such was the case for Adamczyk who was awarded in front of her then fellow eighth graders.
Occasionally joining Greenly—at both assemblies encouraging students to work towards academic success to earn such scholarships and at the subsequent presentation ceremonies—is Main Line resident Cosmo DeNicola, a champion of the program and board member at St. John Vianney. DeNicola went through Catholic education, before attending Temple University, and is beloved and respected in his native Port Richmond and surrounds for his business success. The entrepreneur from humble beginnings has created something of an empire, including Futura Mobility, Amtech Software and Pursuit Healthcare Advisors, among others. He is also a co-owner of the Philadelphia Soul.
DeNicola credits his parochial education as a big part of his character and recognizes that his story, similar to many of the scholars, resonates with students. “You can have dreams and goals and ambitions in life, but they change all the time. You want to make sure what doesn’t change is your commitment, your willingness to give and your understanding of where you come from,” he says, a message he frequently shares with students in the very community he grew up in.
“There’s a sincerity and authenticity in what Mike does and that’s a really beautiful thing,” says DeNicola. “He’s totally committed and deeply engaged on a human level. A lot of times—there are so many people that do so many beautiful things in the world—it becomes almost a matter of function. There’s just a sincerity in what Mike does.”
Beyond financial aid and encouragement, the scholarship program helps students in other ways. For Adamczyk, it came in the unexpected form of self-esteem. “Receiving that scholarship for my academic success definitely boosted my confidence as I went through high school. It reminded me that I have the power to succeed,” she says.
Greenly, whose enthusiasm is readily evident, hopes to increase the volume of the program over time, aiding even more students like Adamczyk and her fellow graduates. “We’re finally seeing some of the results of the graduating seniors,” Greenly says, noting that all of the students have been offered scholarships to attended universities in the fall. For some of the students in the scholars program, they will be the first in their family to attend college. Many chose to stay local, planning to attend Drexel University, University of Pennsylvania and Temple University, among others, already fulfilling Greenly’s goal, in part, of supporting the communities they’re from.
Adamczyk, too, will remain in the area, attending Temple University, where she received a full scholarship, and plans to study environmental science. “I was always interested in science; it was always my favorite class,” she says. “I’ve always wanted to be surrounded by nature, maybe work outside. I’m interested in topics like climate change.”
At the encouragement of her SJV Scholars counselor, Adamczyk sought out summer programs, eventually attending Drexel University’s environmental science program which helped prime her for college where she’ll pursue her passion. While she doesn’t yet know exactly what the future holds, for her and many other students who received support from SJV Scholars, nothing’s out of the question.
For more information, visit www.sjvscholars.com.