Helen Steves supports students’ financial needs through Honorary Fund

Alex Audette and Rod Gonzalez

Anyone that is part of the Mater Dei community will likely know Helen Steves, the Director of Campus Ministry, who oversees the school’s religious activities including Masses, retreats, outreaches and collections.

However, Steves’ scope of charity is not confined to the school’s campus. With an enthusiastic personality, generous attitude and the support of various benefactors, Steves also manages the Helen Steves Honorary Fund, which supports students financially to help them achieve their goals.

Being a student means textbooks and academic resources, along with participating in student activities like dances and field trips; however, for some, these are costly and expensive. As a result, Steves, along with the Strottman and the Schmidt families, the two families with which Steves began her fund, created an endowment dedicated to helping students afford the opportunity to be apart of one of these adventures.

A DAY OF SERVICE: Helen Steves poses with religion teacher Steve Viau and senior Amy Peterson while attending Notre Dame Vision. On June 16, more than 40 seniors served a poor community in West Side Chicago.

Before getting in contact with the Strottmans and the Schmidts, however, Steves began her fund about eight years ago by simply cold calling potential donors and by saving her own money to help students – instead of donating money at her parish, for example, she would set aside her extra income to provide for the MD community.

“I would pick up the phone and ask people that I knew who supported my ministry and were able to support us financially, and I would tell them various stories about young people,” Steves said.

However, the constant hours on the phone asking for money soon began to dwindle. Steves got in contact with Ken and Barbara Strottman and Joe and Deb Schmidt. The five later found themselves sitting down with the vice president of admissions at the time, Jonathan Tufo.

Tufo was inspired by the work Steves was doing for students, Steves said. Therefore, he, along with the Strottmans and the Schmidts, had the idea of creating an honorary fund in order to help students with financial needs.

“On my birthday about seven or eight years ago, I went to dinner with Strottmans and the Schmidts, and at the end of the meal they handed me this check for $50,000 and told me about the beginnings of the honorary fund,” Steves said. “I cried because my heart tends to flow out of my eyes.”

The fund grew very slowly in the beginning. To promote the fund, a dinner was hosted on St. Patrick’s Day in 2010 to inform potential donors of the fund’s mission and who it would benefit. This dinner has now become an annual tradition and has grown with the fund.

“What has happened over the years is that the event turned into a spiritual evening. I think the environment that you walk into is a warm environment,” Steves said. “Where it is right now, there is a very significant endowment with it. With an endowment creates interest, so that when I’m not here anymore, it will keep on keeping on.”

Although Steves has constantly expressed her passion for this fund, she did not want it to be in her name.

“I wanted it to be the Campus Ministry and I had challenges with that and still have challenges with it,” Steves said. “Mr. and Mrs. Ken and Barbara Strottman and Mr. and Mrs. Joe and Deb Schmidt sat down with me and reminded me, and this was so humbling for me, that people would give because of my name.”

Since its beginning, the Helen Steves Honorary Fund has allowed many students the opportunity to travel with the school across the country and abroad. Senior Betty Pham is one of those who have been assisted by the honorary fund and said how impactful it has been on her high school journey.

“If it weren’t for the fund, and more importantly Ms. Steves, I would not have had the wonderful memories and experiences such as Notre Dame Vision,” Pham said.

Steves also provides opportunities for students to earn money towards their trips. She gave senior Amy Peterson the opportunity to earn $100 toward her Notre Dame Vision trip by assisting at the 2018 Mother-Son Luncheon.

“Through the kindness and generosity of Ms. Steves, I was given opportunities, like volunteering at the mother-son luncheon, to help fund my Notre Dame vision trip,” Peterson said.