By Christian Leonard
When Adrienne Usher, 14, toured Divine Saviour School in Los Angeles earlier this summer, the first thing she noticed was how small it was.
Then she realized how big an impact she could have.
Adrienne, a Pasadena resident and the youngest of her sophomore class at Harvard-Westlake School in Studio City, knew at the beginning of the summer that she wanted to do something special with her time off. That “something” proved to be a GoFundMe fundraiser, titled “Dollars for Divine,” seeking to collect $25,000 for the private Catholic school by the end of August.
“I thought, ‘I want to give back to my community. That could be a way to do it,’ but once I actually went to the school, I’m like, ‘Yeah, this is definitely what I want to do. I want to help give these kids an opportunity,’” Adrienne said. “It would make my month — or my year.”
Only 75 students have enrolled at Divine Saviour School, but the school is aiming for a total of 100 later in the year, Principal Armando Carvalho said. The school, in northeast L.A., has a base tuition of $4,870 per year, but with the median income of the area being $41,950, according to the Archdiocese of Los Angeles Department of Catholic Schools, not all the parents who want a private, Catholic education for their children can pay the full amount. One of the families that sends its children to Divine Saviour, Carvalho said, is homeless — something that is not uncommon for Catholic schools to see.
To help families afford the tuition, the school gives more than $100,000 of financial aid each year, receiving some of it from fundraisers, the ADLA and private donations. Even so, Carvalho noted that it is often a struggle to fund the aid the school gives, with approximately $50,000 still to be raised, not including the money Adrienne has helped collect. As of Tuesday, GoFundMe had obtained $9,900 in donations.
“When people think about private school, they think it’s really expensive. … Catholic school is not about that,” Carvalho said. “At a lot of Catholic schools, including ours, the mentality is that if someone really wants to come to our school, we want to make that happen. In order to make that happen, we need some funds to help bring them in with financial aid, and that’s something that’s a big struggle for us now. And so Adrienne Usher was very interested in that idea.”
Adrienne said she chose to raise funds for Divine Saviour because she “wanted to give to a school that really needed it.” It was one of the three schools, out of a pool of approximately 25, according to Carvalho, recently accepted into the ADLA Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Network. The expected growth of the school means financial aid funding is even more needed.
That funding is something Adrienne is happy to help raise. She lauded the school’s new STEM program and its willingness to help families pay for the education, as well as its emphasis on providing a good education to its students, and said she has sent out emails to her parents’ friends to help raise some of the money. She also plans to speak at one of Harvard-Westlake’s school assemblies to promote the fundraiser.
“I really want to see [Divine Saviour] be able to give more scholarships to kids, so for the kids who really have it rough, they can go and attend the school and have all these opportunities open up for them,” Adrienne said. “I just kind of want to see the school kind of come to life, and basically have it have the resources it needs to continue to be successful when it does.”
Adrienne attended Catholic schools from grades 1-8, including St. Philip the Apostle School and Mayfield Junior School, both located in Pasadena.
“What’s great about Catholic schools is that they really promote a sense of responsibility — not only as a religious person, but in your schoolwork and social life — and it’s these sets of rules, internal rules to follow that I think are good for any kid to have,” she said. “It kind of sets you on the straight and narrow.”
She intends to keep the GoFundMe page up into the school year with additional fundraising goals. Carvalho explained that fundraising usually takes place throughout the year, allowing Divine Saviour to accept students to the school after the academic year begins.
“In Mexico, the Catholic schools were built for the elite of society. So a lot of times, people are coming from Mexico and Central America and they see the Catholic school and they think, ‘Oh that’s not for us,’ but that’s not how it is. It’s for everyone in the community,” Carvalho explained, adding that the school accepts students from all faith traditions and those without one.
Carvalho also said that when he met Adrienne, she seemed to be very motivated, with a passion for social justice and a strong interest in education — something she believes is “probably the best gift you could give to kids.”
“I wish there were more adults like her that understood how this system works,” Carvalho said.
But Carvalho also inspires confidence that the project will bear fruit, according to Adrienne and her father, Steve Usher, who is listed on the GoFundMe page as having donated $5,000 to the fundraiser.
“Carvalho is a real doer. I knew that her efforts, everything she put into this, would really pay off,” Steve Usher said.
While Carvalho said he was surprised that a high school student would approach him about fundraising for a private school, Adrienne believes that, especially at Harvard-Westlake, it is not uncommon for people her age to reach for high goals.
“Yeah, I’m young, but anyone who really thinks hard enough of ways, they could do anything. They’re going to get through to it,” she said.
At the same time, Adrienne acknowledges that some might feel that becoming involved with a community project may take too much time out of their schedules. She used to believe that she only had enough time to focus on getting good grades and training for state track and field championships.
The solution to a lack of time, she explained, is summer vacation.
“You have three months of summer that I’m pretty sure you’re not doing anything with,” she said. “There’s always a way you can help out. And even if you don’t want to help out, even if you want to do something else, like write a book or something, it’s still pretty easy. If you have any connections, go to those. You have the whole internet at your disposal. Use that and you’ll get something done.”
For more information, visit gofundme.com/f/ybh698-dollars-for-divine.