Alumni Spotlights

Christine (Bugman) O'Keefe, '96: Making an Impact on Catholic Education

August 14, 2012 by Lisa McMahon, M.A.'09

When kindergarten students at Ambrose Catholic Academy in South Buffalo walked into their classroom at the beginning of September, it was due to the efforts of Christine (Bugman) O'Keefe, '96.

This spring, Christine and the other Ambrose parents received a letter telling them that because pre-enrollment in the kindergarten class was low, it would not be offered in September. A meeting in early June only served to heighten their fear that once the kindergarten class was eliminated, it would only be a matter of time before other classes would follow suit, and that perhaps the school would close entirely. While some may have started looking at other options for their children, Christine reacted by organizing a recruitment campaign.

“Because I have a recruiting background (she's a manager of recruiting and talent acquisition at Dress Barn), I asked them to give us more time so that I could begin to develop a recruiting initiative to see if we can increase enrollment,” she explains.

Christine was given less than four weeks to develop a plan to increase pre-enrollment by 14 students. After organizing a group of parents to help, she decided that the first step in the plan would be to get in touch with Ambrose alumni, an idea that was prompted by a Mass she attended. During that Mass, Christine shared a prayer intention for the parents at Ambrose who were fighting to save their kindergarten class. Many of those in attendance approached her afterward, offering gestures of support, and she realized that they were Ambrose alums.

“So that's where I got the idea,” she says. “I called up the alumni association at the diocese and they gave me all the names and telephone numbers of people who had graduated from about 1965 and later. And I immediately pulled together a letter and sent it to every alum that we could who had an email address.”

Shortly after the letter was sent, Christine began receiving phone calls and emails in support of the recruitment campaign. Many alumni sent her money to pay the $200 registration fee for the new students. In less than three days, Christine says, she had enough money to pay the fee for the first 10 families who registered.

Christine's next step was to reach out to the local community. She distributed flyers to local businesses and had a banner hung near the school that promoted the registration drive.

She also spoke during Masses at her parish one weekend in June, explaining the situation and asking for the parishioners' support. By the end of the weekend, she had received additional donations that would pay the registration fees for every child who enrolled in the kindergarten class. In addition, the parish instituted a referral bonus for the families who had children at Ambrose, offering half off one child's tuition for every child they referred who registered. But rather than keep the bonus for themselves, the families donated it to the kindergarten families.

“I think that really speaks about our community,” Christine says. “They said, ”˜I don't need the money off, I want to pay it forward.' And the families at Ambrose paid it forward to every single family who registered in the kindergarten class this year.”

With one week left until her July 1 deadline, Christine had more than enough money to pay registration and half the first-year tuition for the 14 families she needed to recruit. She just didn't have enough families. So she organized a cold-calling campaign and scheduled an appearance on a local news station. These efforts paid off.

“It was literally July 1 that we registered the 15th family, so we actually beat the quota of 14 families,” she says. “Through the support of the alumni, the community, and a large group of parents who pulled together, we were able to make it happen.”