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Archbishop Walsh's annual St. Patrick's Day fundraiser set for March 24

Thu, Mar 15th 2018 08:00 am

 By TOM DINKI, Olean Times Herald

 OLEAN — One of the smallest schools around plans to once again throw one of the biggest parties in town.

Archbishop Walsh Academy and Southern Tier Catholic School's gym and cafeteria will transform into a festive atmosphere filled with drinks, food, Irish music and raffle drawings in a few weekends for the annual St. Patrick's Day Party and Raffle. The March 24 event will give away $34,000 in cash prizes while also serving as one of the private Catholic schools' two major annual fundraisers.

"Small school, huge party for all the right reasons," said Thomas Manko, Walsh and Southern Tier Catholic's president and principal.

Last year saw a record 810 dinners served and a record of nearly 1,000 people in attendance. School officials also reported 50/50 raffle participation was at an all-time high, in addition to a record number of pull tabs and television raffle tickets sold.

Officials, like event coordinator and school trustee Theresa Smith, hope to meet those numbers or exceed them this year. She noted the "huge contingency" of volunteers, including alumni, who go out into the community and sell tickets. In addition to the school office, tickets are also sold at she and her husband and fellow trustee Nate Smith's West State Street hardware store, Worth W. Smith Co., as well as Sports Locker.

"So it's a full school and outside community involved fundraiser," Smith said.

This will be the third year tickets are also available online, something Smith noted more and more attendees are taking advantage of.

Another new development for the fundraiser, which started off in the mid-1980s as a small sports boosters event, is a new sponsorship program for local businesses. Companies like Wayne Companies Paving and Concrete and Otis Eastern Services have already signed up as major sponsors with four-figure contributions, said Joe Sempolinski, Walsh and Southern Tier Catholic's new director of development.

"So if businesses want to partner with the school and cover some of the overhead costs for the cash prizes, we'll make sure they're recognized," Sempolinski said.

One lucky attendee will be awarded a $20,000 grand prize during a raffle drawing the night of the party. School officials noted past winners have spent the money on everything from a family trip to Walt Disney World to paying off student loans.

One year a gracious winner even returned the entire $20,000 back to the school as a donation.

"It's a cool indication of how the alumni feel about this school," Sempolinski said.

While the event may give away a lot of cash to the community, it also brings in plenty of cash for the school.

As the more laidback counterpart to the annual Eagles Gala Auction held in the fall, past St. Patrick's Day parties have generated anywhere from $80,000 to $100,000, according to school officials. The funds go toward sports equipment, scholarships, field trips, purchasing new technology like iPads and laptops, as well as general operating costs.

"For a school this size, we have a robust extracurricular and athletic program," Sempolinski said. "To do that while still having a small student base, you need help from the community."

 The March 24 event will last from 7 to 11 p.m.

(Contact reporter Tom Dinki at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter, @tomdinki)

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