September 14, 2012

Living a dream

One parent’s hope, another parent’s help leads to a child’s choice of Catholic school

Esmeralda Gomez and her daughter, Aylee, are all smiles because of the girl’s experiences at St. Philip Neri School in Indianapolis. Aylee has been able to attend the school through the generosity of people who contribute to the Educational CHOICE Charitable Trust. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

Esmeralda Gomez and her daughter, Aylee, are all smiles because of the girl’s experiences at St. Philip Neri School in Indianapolis. Aylee has been able to attend the school through the generosity of people who contribute to the Educational CHOICE Charitable Trust. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

By John Shaughnessy

They both know what it means to struggle, to need help.

They both also have a desire to make a dream come true for someone else.

Those qualities connect Esmeralda Gomez and John Gause even though the two Indianapolis residents have never met.

As a young single mother, Gomez wants to give her 7-year-old daughter, Aylee, the best education possible—a Catholic school education that she believes will help her child attend college and become the art teacher she longs to be.

As a successful businessman and the father of three young children, including his 7-year-old daughter, Maggie, Gause remembers growing up in a family of eight children, and how his parents worked tirelessly—and still needed help at times—to give their children the Catholic education that formed their lives.

As Gomez dreams and Gause remembers, their lives have become connected through a program that offers children from low-income families the opportunity to attend a Catholic school—the Educational CHOICE Charitable Trust program that also offers potential donors the opportunity to fulfill those dreams.

Living a dream

A second-grade student at St. Philip Neri School in Indianapolis, Aylee is one of the 2,298 children in Catholic schools across the archdiocese who have been granted an Indiana Choice Scholarship, commonly known as a voucher.

State-funded vouchers cover the tuition and fees at accredited private schools in Indiana up to a maximum of $4,500 per year in grades 1 to 8.

When she enrolled as a kindergarten student at St. Philip, Aylee also benefited from an Indiana law that allows eligible kindergarten and first-grade students in Catholic schools to receive a tax credit scholarship that can make them eligible for a voucher the following school year. Without the financial help, Aylee’s mother wouldn’t have been able to have her daughter attend St. Philip.

“I’m a single mother,” says Gomez, a member of the parish. “I never knew I was going to have the opportunity to be involved in it. When they told me I qualified, it was great, great news for us. It’s a great school. We just love the principal and the teachers. They treat the children with love.”

The school also offers Aylee the future that her mother wants for her daughter.

“I know she’s only 7, but we have great expectations for her,” Gomez says. “I want her to go to college, to have a college degree and be a professional. She wants to be an art teacher. I think she could be a great teacher.”

A smile flashes across Aylee’s face when she talks about her school.

“It’s a very good school,” she says. “The teachers are really nice, and the people are good. We play together and do our homework together and we sit together at lunch. I’m happy here.”

Aylee displayed her budding artistic talent in a card she drew as a “thank you” note to the CHOICE program for her scholarship. The card shows a happy girl sitting at a desk.

Gomez also wrote a letter of appreciation that noted, “Our goal is to be the very best we can be and to learn as much as we can, and to represent this school in an honorable way. Being a single mother, I feel great pride and deep appreciation for this opportunity. My daughter and I wish to say thank you to everybody that has made this possible—for this scholarship, and for the trust and responsibility you place in us.”

Paying back, paying it forward

John Gause grew up in a family of eight children on the east side of Indianapolis, just a few miles from where Aylee attends school. Like Gomez, his parents had their struggles, and they also had dreams for their children.

“I started at Little Flower School and graduated from Our Lady of Lourdes,” he recalls. “There were two years, based on finances, when my parents took us out of the Catholic school system. That was third- and fourth-grade for me. My parents saw the difference, and I felt the pain. My dad worked two jobs, and my mom worked part-time while raising eight kids. I know we got help, too.

“I look at the sacrifice my parents made. I look at all my brothers and sisters have been able to accomplish. I credit that background and that education to basically everything I have today.”

Part of Gause’s success story includes being president of Apex Benefits, an employee benefit firm in Indianapolis that he started.

Much of his life story includes “giving back.” He has coached sports at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish. He has stayed involved and committed to Father Thomas Scecina Memorial High School in Indianapolis, where he graduated in 1980. And he is the chairperson of the archdiocese’s Celebrating Catholic School Values: Scholarship and Career Achievement Awards event on Oct. 30.

He also contributes to the Educational CHOICE Charitable Trust, an independent scholarship granting organization that provided a tax credit scholarship for Aylee to first attend St. Philip Neri School.

“Educational CHOICE provides us with the opportunity to more fully serve economically disadvantaged students,” says Harry Plummer, executive director of Catholic education and faith formation in the archdiocese. “Since 80 to 85 percent of the students coming into our schools through Educational CHOICE are Catholic, this is really exciting.”

Donors to CHOICE can receive a tax credit for 50 percent of their donation up to the full amount of their Indiana tax liability, and they can still claim their federal deduction, Plummer notes.

It’s an incentive that Gause hasn’t overlooked, but his focus is on the difference the contribution makes.

‘It’s good to give back’

“It’s an incredible opportunity for anyone who is considering doing more,” Gause says. “If you’re ever thinking of multiplying the impact of a gift, this is the time to do it. And you’re able to designate where the funds go. Parents should have a choice about where their children go to school, and children should have a choice to get the best education possible. And this program goes a long way toward accomplishing that.”

For Gause and his wife, Jennifer, that choice leads to Catholic schools.

“I believe in the Catholic schools and the archdiocese, not only for what they do for kids, but for what they do for the community,” says John Gause, a member of Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Indianapolis.

“The teachers and coaches in the Catholic schools and the CYO [Catholic Youth Organization] are doing it because it’s what they want to do. They have the ability to teach about Catholicism, right and wrong, and, frankly, discipline. They’re able to speak about God and to teach that it’s important.”

When Gause is told about the impact that the tax scholarship program and a Catholic school education have already had on Aylee and her mother, he smiles and nods.

“Everybody got help at some point along the way,” he says. “It’s good to give back.”

(For more information about donating to the Educational CHOICE Charitable Trust, log on to or

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