BELLAIRE - There are currently four Catholic grade schools and one Catholic high school in Belmont and Monroe counties. They include: St. Mary's Grade School in St. Clairsville, St. Mary's Grade School in Martins Ferry, St. Sylvester's Grade School in Woodsfield and St. John Grade School and high school in Bellaire.
To help these schools, a non-profit organization was created about five years ago called the Irish Youth. The organization was created by Jeff and Rick Paolina.
"My brother, Jeff, myself and my family started the Irish Youth Organization," said Rick Paolina. "Irish Youth is a non-profit organization. It was founded to help raise money to build the football stadium for St. John."
A look at the Irish Youth Athletic Complex. On Saturday, Aug. 24 from 6-11 p.m. the Irish Youth will host its annual Steakfest. The event will raise money for upkeep and improvements to the complex, in addition to helping fund various programs in all the Belmont County Catholic schools.
Paul Rose, who was a former St. John Central football player and later the head varsity football coach for the Fighting Irish, was also instrumental in the founding of the Irish Youth Organization.
For the last five years, the Irish Youth has hosted a Steakfest in order to raise money for the upkeep of the athletic complex. This year's Steakfest will be held on Saturday, Aug. 24 from 6-11 p.m. at the Irish Youth Athletic Complex. The dinner buffet will be open from 7-9 p.m.
"That money (from the Steakfest) goes to the upkeep, maintenance and improvements at the Irish Youth Sports Complex and in addition to that, we help fund a variety of different programs in all of the Belmont County Catholic Grade Schools, as well as the St. John High School and St. Sylvester's in Monroe County," said Paolina.
When the Irish Youth first began five years ago, its mission was for St. John to have its own football field. But then the mission broadened.
"From the school's perspective, it is incredibly beneficial to have an outside non-profit organization that functions solely to support what the schools are trying to do," said Kristi Paolina, who is development director for the high school. "I think when you have that history of the organization, which I wasn't involved with in the beginning, it was started to get St. John's their own football field."
A football field is something that St. John Central Catholic High School has never had. More people became involved, which allowed for the mission to evolve.
"Yes, it was important for to the community to have that facility, but I think everyone kind of realized that the bigger thought behind it was trying to support the mission of Catholic education," said Kristi. "It was going to support the St. John's community to have that football field, because when you have your own place to gather for games and hold other events, obviously that helps with the building of community. But as discussions continued over a couple of years, it became evident the mission of the Irish Youth organization was bigger than supporting the football team or program. It was more about supporting Catholic education in this area."
The mission statement for the Irish Youth organization aims "to provide the necessary funding to endure exceptional educational opportunity, developmental leadership and spiritual guidance for the mind, body and soul of our youth."
The Irish Youth has become an invaluable resource to the Catholic schools in the area. It creates fundraising outside of the school. While the schools are under the care of the diocese which stretches from Steubenville to Ironton, they can only do so much for the schools, as they are financially strapped for cash as well. As of right now, there are only three Catholic high schools remaining in the diocese: Steubenville Catholic Central, St. John Central and Ironton St. Joe's.
Struggling Catholic high schools is not unique to this area or the diocese. According to Kristi, many of the schools are finding ways to think outside of the box.
"We, the stakeholders in the schools, are finding more ways to take ownership in the schools and making sure that the school is viable and successful to the future. We can't just rely on the diocese to run the schools," said Kristi. "The point is that as the mission for Irish Youth became better articulated over a period of a couple of years - it became to support the betterment of Catholic education in Belmont County and the surrounding areas and that is athletically, academically and extracurriculars. It's clear for the schools' perspective that organization is an invaluable resource."
Tickets for the Irish Youth Steakfest are available at the school, 740-676-4932. Advance tickets are $25 and $30 at the door, and includes parking, steak dinner, games and live entertainment.