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Catholic School in Citrus County Saved by Community

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When Jennifer Petrella heard that St. John Paul II Catholic School could potentially close, she was in shock. She couldn’t sit still and do nothing about it.

“My instinct was to not let it happen,” Petrella said.

St. John Paul II, in Lecanto in Citrus County, could have been closed two years ago due to not meeting enrollment and renovation requirements, but members of the community came together and raised the money. Two years later, the school is still open and successful.

As a concerned parent, Petrella spearheaded the fundraising and marketing effort and got the parents, faculty and students involved.

Petrella and four other people created the nonprofit organization, St. John Paul II Salvation Foundation, to raise the needed funds for the school. It continues to fundraise every year.

In order to save the school, the foundation made an agreement with the Roman Catholic Diocese of St. Petersburg that the subsidy from the diocese would be removed if enrollment increased every year for five years.

The foundation, and Lecanto’s chapter of the Knights of Columbus, raised the needed $300,000, according to William Grant, president of the St. John Paul II Salvation Foundation. The money was raised in a month, and everything came from donations.

Services, such as the repavement of the parking lot and the painting of the school building, were donated to the school. But the school still needed to repair the roof, boiler and the air-conditioning. With the funds of the foundation, it was able to do all that was needed, as well as improve the landscape.

The school now has more than 200 enrolled students, something that hasn’t happened in six years, according to Tim Ferguson, director of enrollment. Enrollment for next year’s pre-K class was opened early because of a lot of interest.

The school is an International Baccalaureate candidate, which could attract even more interest.

Ferguson was amazed by how the community came together and raised the money.

“They did great,” he said. “It’s a beautiful thing to see.”

He is grateful for the school because it’s like a family, and the teachers are a big part of that.

“It’s the teachers that make this place so special,” Ferguson said. “The teachers treat the children like their own children.”

Now that St. John Paul II has overcome the hardship of possibly being closed, Petrella and the foundation are making sure that it doesn’t happen again.

“We don’t let down our guard,” Petrella said. “We’re very involved now, and we’re involved in the budget.”

Petrella said people still remember what happened two years ago, so there’s increasing support for the school, and she is thankful for everybody who showed support for this effort — especially the children.

“I feel so grateful. I have tremendous gratitude,” she said. “And I’m proud of the children for fighting for what they believe in.”

About Cassandra Alamilla

Cassandra Alamilla is a reporter for WUFT news. She can be reached at (786) 214-0237 or cassandraalamilla@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter: @cassie_alamilla.

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