Partnering with Bright Promise to Expand Trinity’s Urban Embrace
Trinity enjoys partnerships with a variety of organizations in the suburbs and in Chicago. Many alumni work in local schools, non-profits, and businesses, having gained some of their first work and service experience in these places through Trinity internships or volunteer opportunities.
The Bright Promise Fund (BPF) is one of the organizations with several ties to Trinity, including alumni who work as teachers in BPF’s partner schools; alumni and a Trinity faculty member who serve on the board; and director Dr. Dave Larsen, a 1967 graduate of the College and former vice president for student development.
BPF provides financial resources for urban Christian schools and was started by Larsen when he was approached in 2009 by representatives from seven Christian schools in Chicago. Their vision involved developing a fund to parallel Chicago organizations such as the Big Shoulders Fund for urban Catholic schools and the Good News Fund for urban Lutheran schools.
“I’ve been blessed by Christian education my whole life and have seen its positive impact on our own children and grandchildren. But it has always bothered me that those in poverty-stricken communities most often found it out of their financial reach,” said Larsen. “I began to see this as a justice issue for Christians.”
BPF brings new and sustaining financial resources to the schools, which in turn provide financial assistance to families. At the same time, BPF promotes school vouchers as a vehicle for educational justice. “When parents are able to exercise their freedom to choose a school for their children, studies show that students succeed,” said Larsen. “All students should have access to good schools, and good schools make for good neighborhoods.”
Larsen attended Englewood Christian School in Chicago and Chicago Christian High School in Palos Heights. He graduated from Trinity when it was a two-year institution and later received a Ph.D. from Loyola University. He began his professional career in youth ministry. Larsen served Trinity for nearly 20 years (1976-1996) as dean of students and chaplain and later vice president for student development. He also served as director of development at Timothy Christian Schools in Elmhurst for 12 years.
“My responsibilities were for all those highly formative areas of higher education outside the classroom experience like residence life, worship, and student leadership development,” said Larsen. Toward the end of his tenure at Trinity, he developed the church and ministry leadership major and taught courses in addition to his other duties. He was also part of the campus-wide effort to diversify the Trinity student body. He said this experience widened his perspective on the need for Christian education in urban areas like Chicago.
Several Trinity alumni serve in BPF’s partner schools, and Dr. Mary Webster Moore, associate professor of mathematics education at Trinity, serves on the board. Larsen said these people share “the ability to see the big picture, a love for the city and its people, a passion for justice, and a deep love” for Christian education and Chicago schoolchildren who may be trapped in underperforming schools.
Trinity alumna Meika Mersman ’01, estate and trust counsel for the Alzheimer’s Association National Organization, said that as the youngest board of trustees member, she brings the perspective of young professionals living and working in the city.
“I have always had a strong belief in Christian education, which is one reason I chose to attend Trinity,” said Mersman. “After coming to live in downtown Chicago and becoming involved in other educational charities, I saw a great need for making Christian education available and affordable for those living in and around Chicago.”
When Larsen asked Trinity alumnus Ryan Wynia ’04, founder of Firebone, to contribute to the Bright Promise Fund as a member of the Young Leaders Advisory Board, Wynia said he instantly agreed. Wynia was educated solely in Christian schools and said, “As those experiences drift farther in the rear view, my gratefulness for my Christian education experience has increased and my perspective on its value has widened.
“With Chicago as their classroom, the kids that benefit from Dave’s work through Bright Promise are that much more equipped to reach their God-ordained potential. And while Bright Promise is a young organization,” said Wynia, “the momentum it has achieved is a testament to Dave’s passion for seeing Christian education supported in the City of Chicago and a board of directors unequivocally sold-out to the vision Bright Promise so effectively promotes.”
Partnering with Trinity, BPF is exploring internship opportunities in marketing and social media management and is also in discussions with the College’s education department about increasing Trinity’s presence in urban education.