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Debbie and Bruce Jarosz

When Debbie and Bruce Jarosz began focusing their philanthropy on helping to break the cycle of poverty in Northeast Ohio, they were drawn to support an existing Teen Leadership Program at Fatima Family Center in Cleveland’s Hough neighborhood and establishing a similar program at St. Martin de Porres Family Center in the Glenville community. Bruce explains, “We’ve been very fortunate, very blessed in our lives, and there’s a saying that ‘To whom much has been given, much is expected.’” Bruce, a retired CFO of the specialty chemical company, MF Cachat, says he and Debbie realize that charity begins at home. “Northeast Ohio was very good to us and my business. We wanted to find ways to help make it a better place to live for our children.”

Debbie, a former teacher and service coordinator at Lake Catholic High School, cites a turning point during her experience of scheduling representatives from charitable organizations to speak to the students. Greatly inspired by their example, especially the speaker who served in Uganda, Debbie decided to visit there. She has since visited eleven more times. “Seeing a whole different kind of poverty than what exists here make you realize how fortunate you are and how obligated you are to do something,” Debbie remarks. So she serves as president of the Gulu Help Foundation, which “assists people in the recovery process in Northern Uganda, where there were 20 years of war and horrible oppression.” The Foundation supports health care, counseling, and education, and the newly established University of the Sacred Heart, intending to heal the mind and body.

Ultimately, Bruce and Debbie’s Catholic faith and its social teaching on the preferential treatment of the poor drive the couple’s generosity. Bruce explains, “We were both born and raised Catholics; we’re grateful for our Catholic education; it was just natural to investigate what Catholic Charities is doing. Close to home and close to their hearts, the couple sees their support of the Catholic Charities Teen Leadership Programs as paramount to fulfilling Christ’s teaching to “love one another as I have loved you.”

On a recent visit to St. Martin de Porres Family Center, the Jaroszes witnessed firsthand the impact of their generosity. A group of teens was gathered with headphones and microphones under the guidance of DJ Phatty Banks, a renowned Cleveland DJ and producer and executive director of Reading RAMM, an organization that uses multi-media to elevate student learning and create social-emotional wellness. The teens were showing off their podcasting equipment, which was purchased with the Jarosz’s support.

“The boys and girls are able to talk about what is happening in the world and their lives,” says St. Martin de Porres site director Karnese McKenzie. “They are learning and growing in a way that is engaging for them.” The teens arrive Monday through Friday to learn about career development, college prep, and resume writing. Recently the teens participated in an online financial literacy program through The Ohio State University Extension. Four of the teens have summer job placements. Karnese mentions that she will be following up with their employers and helping to provide feedback to “get them ready for their next step.”

“Mr. and Mrs. Jarosz have planted seeds in these kids, and it is turning into something great,” says Karnese.

Teen Leadership program director, Ms. Pompey, who has worked with children in early learning, after school, and summer camp programs for about 30 years, asked the teens to collaborate and build a three-dimensional replica of “Black Wall Street.” The teens then used the model to discuss what it takes to create a community that can support itself. Phase 2 of the project will involve handling finances to keep the residents and town running. Each of the teens was asked to step forward and describe their building creation to Bruce and Debbie. The interactions between the teens and the Jaroszes brought them a new understanding of each other – and themselves.

Debbie describes the directors at both St. Martin de Porres and Fatima Family Centers as “very impressive, dedicated, energetic people, who are always looking for new and creative ideas.” She adds, “They do a lot of things that involve public speaking or the kids performing – things to build their confidence in public situations. They encourage them to have goals and dreams for the future. They try to expose them to new places and provide enriching experiences. Additionally, the youth experience bonds of healthy friendships with each other.”

“Everything seems to come back to education,” Bruce observes. “So, we’ve been helping these two centers with their summertime leadership programs, to make sure these young men and women have constructive things to do with their summer, so they can get back to school in September without losing too much ground.”

The Jaroszes see these family centers as “two jewels,” which are “working to produce a generation of more successful youth that will go on to be successful adults, and in turn, do something else for their communities.”

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