Angels come to rescue for Douglaston kids

Jean Donoghue (second from l.) meets with Noelle Jannello-Ruiz (l. to r.), Frankie Jannello-Ruiz and Artie Jannello-Ruiz at the Immaculate Conception center in Douglaston. Photo by Rich Bockmann
By Rich Bockmann

The buzz and hum of the festival atmosphere that filled a cavernous dining hall at the Immaculate Conception Center, at 72-00 Douglaston Pkwy. in Douglaston, last week was regularly enhanced by a series of slightly varied announcements.

“Student No. 10, your angel, Kathleen, is here,” a voice would call out over the loudspeakers, indicating it was time for a young Catholic school student to meet the donor who made a contribution to the student’s tuition through the nonprofit Futures in Education Foundation’s “Be an Angel to a Student” program. “Student No. 11, your angel, Angel, is here.”

This year some 500 students from financially struggling families received tuition aid from nearly 225 donors to help offset the cost of attending Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn schools throughout Queens and Brooklyn. For many of the children, April 6’s reception was the first time they and their parents — or in many cases, single parent — met their angel.

“Typically they make a multi-year commitment, and in a couple of cases they’ve followed on through high school,” said John Notaro, the foundation’s director of operations. “Donors hear about the program mostly through word of mouth. The stories really move others to join the program.”

Throughout the year the donors receive progress reports and cards and letters from their beneficiaries, and many exchanged gifts, played games and ate as they got to know each other.

When it was Jean Donoghue’s turn to be announced, she got her first opportunity to meet Noelle Jannello-Ruiz, the straight-A first-grade student at Sacred Heart School in East Glendale whom she and her friends, Colleen Ashton and Meg Feerick, sponsored with a donation of $1,500.

“The three of us decided to sponsor a student as a Christmas gift. We’re single ladies and we wanted to help a single mother,” she said.

Noelle’s mother, Frankie, pays $6,900 a year to send both her daughter and son, Artie, to Sacred Heart. She said she recently lost her husband to suicide and was humbled and overwhelmed by the three women’s gesture.

“My son knows the prayer of St. Francis by heart,” she said. The prayer reads: ‘For it is in giving that we receive.’”

“It’s a difficult time for families. We’re a family that does what Jean is doing,” said Noelle’s mother, who does charity work through her salon for children, Frankie’s Playce.

“To me, a Catholic education is extremely important. The values it teaches are extremely important,” she said. “I like that teachers are allowed to teach freely — that they’re not teaching to a test.”

Donoghue, who lives in Sunnyside and is a Catholic school teacher herself, spotted her old principal from high school, when she played basketball for the diocese’s Catholic Youth Organization. Often, she said, she played games at the gym at Sacred Heart, where Noelle is a cheerleader for her school’s basketball team.

“We’ve gone to Catholic schools our whole lives,” Donoghue said of herself and her friends. “Education is a vital part of who we are.”

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at rbockmann@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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