OLEAN — Archbishop Walsh Academy and Southern Tier Catholic School officials admit selling tickets to their St. Patrick’s Day Party and Raffle isn’t all that challenging.
First of all, a ticket automatically enters the buyer into a chance to win $20,000. Secondly, the $100 ticket price goes toward supporting the education of students at the private, Catholic, 160-student campus.
“Being able to support kids appeals to pretty much anybody,” said Joe Sempolinski, Walsh and Southern Tier Catholic’s director of development. “That’s a real positive thing no matter what your background is.”
The annual fundraiser, which in the past has raised anywhere from $80,000 to $100,000, returns to the Walsh gymnasium and cafeteria March 23 with food, drinks, music and raffle drawings.
Tickets sales are currently on pace to do as well if not better than last year when more than 1,100 tickets were sold, Sempolinski said.
There’s also some new twists to this year’s event, including a costume contest that will award $100 to the winner.
“Traditionally, people of their own accord will wear a green hat or goofy sweater or what have you, but this year we’re going to award them for that,” Sempolinski said.
A total of $34,000 in cash prizes will be given away, including a grand prize of $20,000.
In addition to the traditional TV raffle, there will also be a raffle for two kayaks this year.
“So you may walk out of here with $20,000, a TV, some petty cash, and you could take it all right down the river on two kayaks,” Sempolinski said with a laugh.
The event’s sponsorship program will also return for a second year. The initiative brings in additional fundraising dollars while also allowing local businesses to get their logos displayed at the event.
“We’re getting some folks that hadn’t sponsored last year that are sponsoring this year,” Sempolinski said. “I was hoping that would happen because I saw some business people last year looking like, ‘Oh, wait a minute, so-and-so’s logo is all over the gymnasium.’ You start a program like that, people want to sort of see, ‘Oh yeah, this does put your logo in front of a lot of eyeballs.’”
The St. Patrick’s Day Party is the informal counterpart to the annual Eagles Gala Auction held in the fall. Together, the St. Patrick’s Day Party and Eagles Gala are the school’s biggest fundraisers, sometimes generating more than $200,000.
The importance of the fundraisers became all the more important this school year after the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo cut off Walsh’s $100,000 subsidy, which represented 8 percent of the $1.19 million Walsh budget and 5 percent of the combined $2.05 million Walsh/Southern Tier Catholic budget.
Diocesan officials said compensating victims of clergy sexual abuse was among the reasons for the cuts, which also impacted five other private catholic high schools in Western New York, one of which had to close.
“Obviously everybody knows about the situation with the diocese, but I can tell you that thanks to our support in the community, we’re doing well,” Sempolinski said. “We’ve had our community members and our benefactors really give us unflinching support.”
Sempolinski credits the fact that Olean views Walsh and Southern Tier Catholic as a “community institution,” adding alumni, parents and even those with no affiliation have shown support in the name of giving the city a “choice for education.”
“When you’re a community institution, you can weather difficulties like we had with the funding for the diocese,” he said. “We’re still here, we’re open, we’re going to be open next year. We’re doing good things and a lot of that has to do with in a small city, people stick together.”
The event will last from 7 to 11 p.m. March 23. Prizes will be announced at 10 p.m.
Tickets can be purchased at the school or online at stcswalsh.org. Tickets may also be purchased at Worth W. Smith Co., The Sports Locker, the Greater Olean Area Chamber of Commerce and the Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels.
(Contact reporter Tom Dinki at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter, @tomdinki)