Southwestern Indiana's Catholic Community Newspaper

MEO Gala Adapts, But Continues Supporting Catholic Education For All

Bishop Joseph M. Siegel blesses the evening meal and gives thanks for the work and support of Marian Educational Outreach. The Message photos by Megan Erbacher

Gone are the days of traditional desks and chairs placed in neat rows or groups in classrooms, according to Marian Educational Outreach Director Annie-Rose Keith.

Educators are learning a major factor in providing students with the atmosphere they need to succeed involves classroom seating, Keith explained to a crowd of more than 200 people.

“What if I told you that incredibly successful classrooms of the future could look like the study centers you see on college campuses or in coffee shops,” she asked. … “Teachers are becoming more and more aware of the style of the seating in classrooms and its major effect on how students behave and learn in their classrooms.”

The increasing trend of flexible seating in education was this year’s fund-an-item project at the 9th annual Marian Educational Outreach’s My Parish Has Talent, an expansion of the nonprofit’s Tri-State Idol program. The annual gala and fundraiser held on April 6 at St. Vincent Manor in Evansville highlighted live, local talent and offered both live and silent auctions.

Keith said MEO hopes to provide flexible seating for as many schools in the diocese as possible. Specific seating depends on the creativity of the teacher but can include balance ball chairs, elastic bands, tennis balls, bean bags, standing desks, rocking chairs and even couches.

Marian Educational Outreach, or MEO, is an Evansville-based nonprofit committed to making sure that students with unique learning needs and their teachers have as many opportunities for success as possible while remaining in the Catholic school system.

The former MEO Tri-State Idol expanded this year to include kids in grades 8-12, college students and adults.

“We thought this was a good chance to highlight our amazing diocesan community and the talented performers in our parishes while supporting our organization,” Keith said. “This would also be a nod to past galas (MEO Tri-State Idol).”

Diocese of Evansville Bishop Joseph M. Siegel blessed the evening meal and gave thanks for the work and support of MEO, which gives children with special needs the opportunity to know God more intimately.

Four acts performed live during the night. Performers competed for a $600 grand prize, the second-place prize of $400, and $200 each to third and fourth place finishers.

First place went to Reitz Memorial High School junior Josh Mijares, who is a member of St. John the Baptist in Newburgh. Mijares, who has played the piano since he was around 5-years-old, performed “I Dreamed a Dream,” from the musical Les Misérables.

In second place was a group from Sts. Mary and John parish consisting of Holly D’Amour, Betsy Gorman, Gerald Murry, Jim Gorman, Caroline DiLegge, Rosie Greeson, David Payne, Bill O’Nan, Maria Evans, Pat Kerstiens, Dennis Russell, Dan Weinzapfel, Gisela Fischer, Kathy Weinzapfel, John Stephenson, Karen Kuhlenhoelter, Debbie O’Nan and Richard D’Amour.

The third place winner was a multi-parish group consisting of Emily Sellers (vocals), Susan Volz (vocals), Diane Fehrenbacher (vocals and guitar), Wayne Fehrenbacher (vocals), Paul Breeze (vocals and guitar), Tina Schutte (vocals and keys), Jon Kern (drums and sound) and Jack Hutchison (bass).

And in fourth place was Resurrexit, another multi-parish group consisting of Jeremy Aldridge (vocals), Tad Dickel (guitar and vocals), Jon Kern (drums), Michelle Elbert (vocals), Tina Schutte (piano and vocals) and Craig Schutz (bass).

Last year’s fund-an-item project was to expand West Side Catholic School’s special education program. Donations allowed for more growth in the program than Principal Kelsey Meier could’ve ever imagined.

Meier said they were able to use the donations to create a sensory room at both the elementary and junior high campuses.

“Many of our students utilize these rooms each day,” she said. “Whether it’s to calm their self, to gain focus or take a much-needed break when over stimulated. Often times you can even find some of the staff or me in there to take a much-needed break as well.”

Meier said the goal is to continue to grow West Side Catholic’s special education program and open it up to as many west side students as possible.

As of print deadline, Keith didn’t have a final count on the amount raised during the 2019 gala, but she was pleased with the turnout and the community’s generosity.

“My Parish Has Talent is the bigger of our two fundraisers,” she said. “Our goal is to thank our donors and introduce our organization to new members of the community while raising money for specific projects. I really enjoyed meeting everyone. This is a very kind and supportive community and I’m looking forward to what the future holds for MEO.”