January 26, 2018 // Schools

Called to ‘Lend a Hand’

By Kelli Stopczynski

There was a time when local Catholic schools operated with near autonomy and did not naturally collaborate or communicate with their peer schools on success stories or best practices. Moreover, educators did not discuss common challenges and struggles, let alone possible solutions. It was an era before cellphones, email and social media.

Quality Dining Inc. Chairman and CEO Daniel Fitzpatrick, along with three of his brothers, began the You Can Lend a Hand program in 1982 as a way to unify local Catholic schools.

Quality Dining Inc. Chairman and CEO Daniel Fitzpatrick understood the issues and wanted to help. Born and raised in Toledo, Ohio, Fitzpatrick and his five brothers and sister attended Catholic elementary and high schools. As a young professional, he worked alongside brothers Jim, John and Jerry in operating Burger King Restaurants in the Southwest Michigan and Northern Indiana area. Dan and his siblings appreciated the value of Catholic education and wanted to contribute in any way they could.

“I knew we could help. I knew when business leaders communicate and collaborate with one another success can be shared and grown. The communication among school administrators could be the platform to discover significant ways to improve the quality of education for our children,” Dan said. “It’s not that what they were doing was wrong, but no one had ever suggested to these pastors and principals that they could better themselves by having regular conversations and building positive relationships with each other.”

Light of Learning award winners gather for a photo with Bishop Rhoades.

In 1982, Dan facilitated the first-ever meeting between Catholic school leaders in the St. Joseph / Benton Harbor, Michigan area. After seeing positive results from the improved communication, he offered to assist schools in the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend Diocese to do the same.

“I remember discussing the issue with Bishop (John M.) D’Arcy and he could not have been more encouraging,” Dan added.

It’s no secret funding is an omnipresent issue for Catholic education.

“Catholic education funding is tuition-driven by families,” Dan continued. “Unlike their public-school peers, there is no line on the real estate tax bill for Catholic schools.”

Knowing this, Dan worked with school leaders to develop a program where schools could help themselves — and aptly named it “You Can Lend a Hand.” The program began as a fundraising effort using coupon books, but the program’s reach has grown enormously over the years.

A privately held company, Quality Dining currently operates well over 200 restaurants in seven states, including Burger King, Chili’s and Papa Vino’s Italian Kitchen restaurants.

“We’ve worked very hard, but have also been very fortunate over the years,” commented Deacon Jim Fitzpatrick, who serves as vice chairman of QDI. “We believe in the value of Catholic education, and it is our mission to ensure students in our schools are receiving the very best education possible. Strong education yields a brighter future for all of our communities.”

In 36 years, the You Can Lend a Hand program has raised more than $10.2 million for area Catholic schools. Elementary school students sell the coupon books and their schools keep the profits. Schools use the money to pay for technology, books, scholarships, playground equipment or incidentals in the general fund. This year the goal is to sell nearly 90,000 books with coupons to Burger King, Chili’s and Papa Vino’s, while partnering several other family-oriented venues such as the South Bend Cubs, Compton Family Ice Arena, Potawatomi Zoo, St. Joseph County 4-H Fair, Kroc Center, St. Joseph County Parks and Rum Village Aerial Park in South Bend — and in Fort Wayne, the TinCaps, Science Central and Headwaters Ice Rink.

“It’s encouraging to see so many organizations within our community committed to supporting Catholic education. This level of involvement is integral to the continued success of educating our youth,” remarked QDI Chief Operating Officer and Senior Vice President Jerry Fitzpatrick.

While the coupon books – better known by many diocesan families as “The Burger King books” — are the backbone of You Can Lend a Hand, many other facets of the program carry on its overall theme of unifying Catholic schools.

For example, QDI underwrites two All-Schools Masses, held on a weekday each fall at the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum in Fort Wayne and the University of Notre Dame’s Purcell Pavilion. More than 8,000 elementary school students attend the Masses, and selected students participate musically or through other service. Fourth-grade students dress up as their favorite saint and often take questions from Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades before he gives the homily.

Quality Dining kicks off the You Can Lend a Hand program during Catholic Schools Week with luncheons in Fort Wayne and South Bend, honoring more than 40 teachers and administrators with a Light of Learning award for exemplary dedication to Catholic education.

“These educators are very special people,” said Quality Dining President John Firth. “They don’t do it for the money or the fame. They truly want to make a difference in the lives of the students they teach while enriching our communities as a whole. There is no question that for our Catholic school educators, teaching is a true vocation!”

Additionally, QDI organizes events to celebrate Catholic education outside school hours. Students, families and parishes in the South Bend area are invited to attend You Can Lend a Hand night Tuesday, June 12 at a South Bend Cubs game; in the Fort Wayne area, a Catholic Night is scheduled for May 18. Both games will include fireworks and special You Can Lend a Hand recognitions.

“Support for Catholic education is not only important, but it pays strong dividends for our communities,” Dan said. “Impressively, our schools consistently achieve high academic performance as measured both across the country and in Indiana and Michigan. It is our hope that the You Can Lend a Hand program transcends principal-to-principal communication and coupon books. This is about the calling we all have to do our part and make a difference. It’s really that simple.”

Coupon books are available for purchase from local Catholic school students through Feb. 28. For more information about the You Can Lend a Hand program, visit www.YouCanLendaHand.com.

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