New Aim Higher President Brings Passion to Catholic Scholarship Efforts

For Ricky Austin, president of the Aim Higher Foundation in St. Paul, a Catholic school education is vital to the longevity of the Church — and something all children should have access to, regardless of economic status. of the family.

It is these beliefs that drive the 39-year-old to convert to Catholicism as he heads a foundation that awards $1,000 scholarships to children from families with proven financial need who wish to attend Catholic schools.

Ricky Austin

“There was a report that (the University of) Notre Dame published in 2006 on the future of Catholic schools. This document posed a big question of whether our generation would oversee the demise or closure of one of the most effective means of evangelism the country has ever seen, or will we answer the call and write a new end to the history of the Catholic school? It was that document that really boosted my connection to Catholic schools,” said Austin, just weeks after Aim Higher’s board named him president in August to succeed Jean Houghton, who was appointed Director of Mission Advancement at the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. September 6.

His own conversion to Catholicism also plays a role. Born and raised in Southern California, Austin said he was surrounded by various religious traditions, including attending a Lutheran elementary school and a Catholic high school. He went to Notre Dame, where he earned a double major in liberal studies and computer applications.

During his senior year at the University of South Bend, Indiana, Austin entered the adult Christian initiation rite and was on his way to joining the Catholic Church.

“I was raised in a mixed household and was exposed to a variety of religious traditions as a child,” Austin said. “And as soon as I entered middle school, high school, I had a lot of questions. But at that time, I was getting answers that left me with a feeling of dissatisfaction. It was at Notre-Dame that learned about the Catholic faith, the Catholic tradition, and the deep intellectual history of how the Church wrestled with these questions – and provided deeply fulfilling, meaningful, and lasting answers to the questions of why we are here and what we are called to do.

During an RCIA breakout session, Austin met a man who worked for the Alliance of Our Lady for Catholic Education, a program which, according to its website, aims to provide “a Catholic education of highest quality to as many children as possible”. This planted the seed in Austin to consider teaching combined with service. In the end, Austin threw his proverbial hat in the ring for ACE and was selected to teach second grade at a Catholic school in Oklahoma City, while working toward a master’s degree in education at Notre Dame. Later he moved to Chicago to pursue his teaching career.

Around this time, Austin saw Notre Dame’s report on the future of Catholic schools, and he became involved with the ACE Graduate Network, which eventually brought Austin and his wife, Megan, back to South Bend. He spent seven years working in alumni relations at the ACE central office, working to help other ACE alumni networks in other cities expand their efforts. Eventually, Austin led ACE’s communications team.

“There are too many kids who don’t have access to a great Catholic education,” Austin said. “And yet, in each of these communities, there are Catholic schools with empty seats. Data shows time and time again that they are more effective in educating disadvantaged children. Indeed, the more a child is disadvantaged, the more the Catholic school has an impact on him. And yet, there is a problem — they cost money. Where and how can we make Catholic schools accessible to all families? »

This is where Austin’s role as chairman of the AIM Higher Foundation comes in. After spending seven years in South Bend, the Austin family, now with two children, traveled to his wife’s home state of Minnesota to be closer to her family. They joined St. Odilia in Shoreview, then moved to St. Paul, where they became parishioners of the Nativity of Our Lord.

Austin was hired in 2017 as director of scholarships and communications at Aim Higher and promoted in 2020 to vice president of advancement and operations.

Over the past five years, the number of $1,000 scholarships awarded by the foundation to families with Catholic children in kindergarten through eighth grade has tripled, from 700 scholarships in 2017 to 2,152 scholarships this school year. The average household income of scholarship recipients is $37,000. Once a child receives a scholarship and the family remains eligible, he or she can receive $1,000 until eighth grade.

“There are too many children, especially in this community, who don’t have access to a quality education,” Austin said. “There is therefore an underlying urgency for us to spread the word about what we do, to engage new friends in our mission and to continue to grow. The financial support we receive and overall support for our mission is vital.

The Aim Higher Foundation’s annual Night of Light fundraising gala will take place from 6-9 p.m. on October 7 at the InterContinental St. Paul Riverfront in St. Paul. More information and tickets available at nightoflight.info.

Principals of Catholic schools, such as Bridget Kramer of the Community of Saints in West St. Paul, have noted Aim Higher’s help and the difference Austin has made.
“Through the AIM Higher Foundation and the financial support it provides to many of our school families, we are able to live out our mission and vision to serve all,” Kramer said. “Since Ricky’s involvement with the AIM Higher Foundation, I have not only seen a significant growth and increase in financial support for more of our own school families, but also for families across the Archdiocese. “

Austin’s ability to listen to school leaders and understand the challenges they face, respond and collaborate has been helpful, Kramer said.

Jane Bona, director of Immaculate Conception in Columbia Heights, said she gives Aim Higher credit because Catholic schools, including Immaculate Conception, have increased enrollment over the past two years.

“It’s a moment in time when a child receives a scholarship,” Bona said. “This moment is part of their educational career as they become an Aim Higher scholar. Once families understand that this scholarship can be available for the child’s years up to eighth grade, the gratitude will be seen in their eyes and hearts. Think of this impact in each of our schools – it transforms lives.

Key words: Aim Higher Foundation, Aim Higher Scholar, Aim Higher New President, Picks, Ricky Austin

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