Mirabitos help a lot; more contributors sought in final phase
By Tom Maguire
John Mirabito loves philanthropy as much as he does energy. The Binghamton businessman, who owns a wholesale and retail distribution company for electricity, natural gas, and fuel oil, has pledged $1 million to the Catholic Schools of Broome County.
So when Mirabito speaks to other potential donors, they respond. The campaign, titled “A Shared Vision That Will Enrich Our Future,” started last year and now enters its final phase with seventy-five percent of the $3.2 million goal already attained. “We’re really encouraged and optimistic about reaching our goal,” said Mirabito, who also owns more than 100 convenience stores, mostly in Central New York and northern Pennsylvania.
John and Cheryl Mirabito’s youngest son attended Seton Catholic Central School in Binghamton and the couple saw the impact it had on him. “I think it’s important as many kids can experience that as possible,” John said. A faith-based education, he said, is the best option to develop mind, body, and soul. In Binghamton’s Catholic schools, Mirabito sees “motivated kids who want to learn and are excited to learn and I think that helps everybody perform better.”
Mirabito, the chairman of the schools’ board of directors, credits the other board members, committee members, students, administrators, and staffers who have worked on the campaign so far.
If its “silent” phase has yielded $2.5 million from 59 key contributors, a modicum of outspokenness to families and alumni by May of this year ought to finish the job. The public phase includes media, word of mouth, packets sent to alumni and current school families, and contacts with other businesses in the Southern Tier.
The fundraising targets three main categories of school improvements, Mirabito said:
• $1.5 million to upgrade programming at instructional spaces and learning centers: “all places where kids get together,” such as resource rooms.
• $950,000 for curriculum coordination and expansion. Establish a counseling program for the elementary programs and develop a business program for the school system. He said the programming will be more for business in general than for science and math, but it will still be rigorous.
• First impressions: improvements to landscaping, the building façade, main offices, athletic field, and cafeteria.
The primary philanthropic counsel for the campaign is Changing Our World, which serves nonprofits around the globe. The firm also conducted the campaign for the restoration of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Syracuse. James Kopp, senior managing director of the firm, said the “tremendous philanthropic outpouring” from the residents of Binghamton underscores “an understanding of the importance of the Catholic Schools of Broome County to the community.”
“It’s the only private-school system in the Southern Tier of the state,” he said. He added: “These individuals don’t just do well, they do good … in communities in which they live, work, and pray.”
Both Kopp and Elizabeth Carter, Ph.D., president of Catholic Schools of Broome County, noted that the school buildings are very old. “Most of them haven’t been upgraded since the 1960s,” Dr. Carter said, “and so one of our projects is to make sure we bring some buildings, including technology and furniture, into the 21st century.” School-safety and athletic-field improvements are planned as well.
Some projects must be done over the summer, such as renovations to the outside of the high school and the parking lot. Such projects might top the priority list because they are done when school is not in session, she said.
The schools have nearly 1,000 students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade, including 372 in the junior and senior high school and 372 in kindergarten through sixth grade.
“We want to add some additional services,” Dr. Carter said, such as a K-6 counseling program that would complement the counseling program at the high school. Money from the campaign will fund stipends for senior faculty to mentor junior faculty.
Dr. Carter noted that the board members have been active making their own donations and soliciting donations from people they know. The silent phase included lunch or dinner meetings and two catered receptions for potential donors at board and committee members’ homes. Donations ranged from $5,000 to $25,000 to $1 million, she said.
At one reception, she said, a man asked her, “‘What are you working on in terms of your projects?’ He was interested in grants I was writing.” She responded that she was trying to get stability-ball chairs for students who have difficulty focusing. “And he said, “‘I’ll pay for those.’ … And he gave me $5,000 right off the bat for that.”
The man called his wife over, and she said, “‘Well, that’s great, but I am interested in helping children to become better writers, so I want to donate money for ways to improve their writing. … I’m going to give you $15,000 to help toward the writing.’” Such contributions really impress foundations from which she seeks matching grants, Dr. Carter said.
Some donors may elect to donate a certain amount per year, such as $5,000 per year over four years, she said.
Alumni and families that receive fundraising packets in the mail will now know that there is only 25 percent — $750,000 — left to raise, Dr. Carter said.
“People are really stepping up to help us,” she said. “A lot of people say, ‘I love Catholic Schools of Broome County and I really want to do what I can to help.’”