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 | By Emily Hockemeyer

CCFMM provides SPRED with support to share experiences as a community

With support from two endowed funds with the Catholic Community Foundation of Mid-Michigan (CCFMM), students in the Special Religious Education (SPRED) program stayed in touch during COVID and celebrated being reunited. SPRED is not only a religious education program for Catholics with disabilities; it's a faith community that encourages the growth of life skills through a myriad of experiences.

"SPRED's sense of community simply wouldn't be here without catechists, volunteers, grants, and donations,” said Marsha Caylor, program leader. "With the support of the [CCFMM's] endowments, we can purchase class supplies and have outings for our students, such as bowling, dances and picnics.”

While the program was put on pause in many ways during COVID, there was something else that kept the spirit of SPRED alive: snail mail.

Funded by a CCFMM disbursement, Marsha mailed monthly newsletters to ensure that SPRED students continued to feel cared for during a time when many felt neglected.

"One student would run to the mailbox, grab the SPRED mail and kiss the envelope in excitement!" she recalled.

The simple piece of mail symbolized the loving community that SPRED has formed over the last 50 years. Every newsletter would contain a poem penned by Bobby Caylor, a long-time volunteer. Additionally, the birthdays of the month and any updates were highlighted. Sometimes, Marsha or her team would include a greeting card with a handwritten note.

As soon as SPRED could safely meet face to face, they did. Coming back together in the fall of 2022 was exciting for two reasons: the community was reunited, and SPRED was embarking on a year of celebrating its 50th anniversary.

Sister Mary Lou Owczarzak, MSSp., shares that all students, volunteers and their families can attend events, like the upcoming “Welcome Back Picnic” free of charge because of the endowment distribution SPRED receives.

“Many volunteers have been involved for 30 to 40 years and they just bond so well with the students, parents and volunteers,” Sister Mary Lou said. “This community just loves the students; they often say they receive more than what they give. The community is full of joy and love.”

Kathy Hutchinson, a SPRED parent, said the community has many parts that are all one body: a student community, a catechist and volunteer community and a parent community.

"It's a ripple effect that just keeps giving and growing," Kathy said.

"[The CCFMM] strongly believes in the power of community and is delighted that the disbursements are being utilized to create experiences that support SPRED's community during and beyond the COVID pandemic,” said Kristin Smith, director of the Catholic Community Foundation of Mid-Michigan. “This type of faith-based work is precisely what the Foundation supports."

Currently, the CCFMM provides disbursements to SPRED through two endowment funds.

The Ann and Richard Blazejewski Fund for Religious Education for Children with Special Needs was established in 2009 to support the religious education of children with special needs. This fund was created in honor of Ann and Richard Blazejewski, who had a great affection for children, particularly those who required special attention and care for their physical or mental conditions regarding their religious education and spiritual well-being. To date, donations are just under $10,000 dollars.

The Father C. Albrecht Catholic Education Fund was established in 2007 for children with special needs. To date, donations have exceeded $25,000 from more than 193 donations. The CCFMM is especially grateful to the Ladies Auxiliary, Knights of Columbus #4232, who honor deceased members of the community with donations to the endowment.

These endowments include support for special needs children’s religious education, such as tuition assistance, textbooks, teaching supplies and educational opportunities to enhance the training of those working with special needs children to provide religious education. Both funds are open for additional contributions through

"We congratulate SPRED’s 50 years of building the Kingdom of God," Kristin said. "The power of our faith community can be felt by all through SPRED’s work."