Hampton Bays resident Tony Valle says that without the help of the Tomorrow's Hope Foundation, which provides scholarships to Catholic school students, he would not be able to send his two daughters to parochial schools.

"It's meant them being able to stay in schools that my wife and I are just blessed to be part of," said Valle, who runs a stationery store in Southampton. "Everything about it has been terrific."

And church officials say the foundation, which granted scholarships to 2,000 of Long Island's 23,000 Catholic elementary school students this year, is helping keep many schools afloat and preventing them from closing.

While enrollment at Catholic elementary schools in the Diocese of Rockville Centre has declined by 19 percent over the last five years, the drop is far less than in other dioceses in the area, said Sister Joanne Callahan, superintendent of the diocesan school system.

"I really attribute it completely to the Tomorrow's Hope Foundation," she said. Until this year, the diocese had not closed a Catholic elementary school since 2005. Two schools, in Massapequa Park and in Mineola, are to shut this month because of declining enrollment.

Nationally, Catholic elementary school enrollment has remained steady for the last five years, but dropped from 1.8 million to 1.5 million from 2000 to 2005, according to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University.

Now in its fifth year, the Tomorrow's Hope Foundation, created at the urging of Bishop William Murphy, last month raised $1 million at its annual gala fundraiser for the fourth consecutive year. That, despite the dismal economy.

"If you had asked me a month ago I would have said I don't know if we are going to be able to do it," Callahan said.

The event was held May 21 at the RXR Plaza in Uniondale, and attracted 650 people, who bid on auction items, took out ads in a glossy program, and donated money.

The foundation gives grants ranging from $500 to $2,000 to the families of students at Catholic grammar schools, where average tuition is about $4,100 a year.

The number of scholarships has gone up each year from 800 in 2006-2007 to 2,000 this past school year. The foundation hopes to give at least that number this year, and says it has a waiting list of 1,000 more families seeking scholarships. Half of those families already have children in Catholic schools and half want to enroll them.

Valle, 45, and his wife, Donna, have their youngest daughter, Olivia, 9, finishing fourth grade at Our Lady of the Hamptons Regional Catholic School in Hampton Bays. Their older daughter, Lauren, 15, is finishing 10th grade at McGann-Mercy High School in Riverhead.

Olivia received an $1,800 scholarship this year to study at Our Lady, where tuition is about $5,000 a year, her father said. Tuition at the high school is about $8,000 a year.

Valle said the scholarship made a huge difference to the family. Without it, "it would be incredibly tough" to send the girls to Catholic school. Even with it, he said, in the family budget "every single penny is accounted for."

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