Sarah Ioele, Director of Community Relations
Who was Father Joseph Champlin?
Father Champlin was one of a kind. Many of us called him the “People’s Priest” — he made you feel like you were the only person in the world. He genuinely loved people and wanted to spread God’s love to everyone regardless of their faith or place in life. He was a visionary, inspirational leader, author, Monsignor, an avid runner who loved music, a mentor, and friend. Many people recognize him without ever seeing his face. His 60 second radio spots on 570 WSYR’s Spiritual Suggestions for a Stress-Filled Society made him famous with his tag line, “You may have tried everything else — why not try God?”
Father was born in 1930 in Hammondsport, New York. After graduating high school from Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, he studied at Yale and Notre Dame Universities before attending seminary in Rochester, New York. Father authored more than 50 books and was Rector of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception for more than 10 years after serving as Rector in numerous churches in CNY including St. Joe’s in Camillus and Our Lady of Good Counsel in Warners. Father, as accomplished as he was, was not one for titles and formalities. He was best known for being a humble parish priest who had the privilege of being part of families’ most important milestones: baptisms, marriages, funerals, and everything in between.
Father once stated that he was “touched most by experiences of loss and gain, of losing things and gaining people.” Father Champlin was a free spirit who followed his own path and blazed a trail of love, light, and hope, which is why he founded the Guardian Angel Society in 1997. He saw so many students that were in need of a quality education and he wanted to open that door for them and their families.
What is the mission of the Guardian Angel Society?
Our mission is to break the cycle of poverty and change the world by educating one child at a time. Our not-for-profit organization provides tuition assistance, mentoring, and tutoring services to help build a path to success for at risk students from diverse cultural and religious backgrounds.
Why was education so important to Father Champlin?
Father realized that too many children in need were not graduating from high school. He desperately wanted to stop the cycle of poverty for these kids by helping them receive a quality education based on a strong set of values. Not only did he want our students to be prepared academically for high school graduation and college, he wanted to equip them with life skills so they could better navigate the quickly changing world we live in and understand the power and importance of giving back to the communities that invested in them.
What programs does the Society provide?
There are two foundational programs within the Society: our Tuition Assistance Program and our Mentor & Tutor Program. It was Father’s goal that financial burdens never stand in the way of a child’s desire for a quality education. Our tuition assistance is available to families of students who attend Cathedral Academy at Pompei (CAP) and continues with them through high school graduation at Bishop Grimes, Bishop Ludden, or Christian Brothers Academy.
The mentor tutor program was implemented to ensure each scholar successfully graduates from high school and is prepared to be a productive citizen to our community. Participating students boast increased grades in many academic areas and clearly enjoy the special relationships built between them and their volunteer mentors, some of which are lifelong. In addition, experienced tutors provide weekly academic support as needed in subjects including math, literacy, chemistry, Spanish, U.S. history, algebra, geometry and Regents exams preparation.
How many volunteers take part in your programs? Why do you think they volunteer for you instead of another charitable organization?
Without our dedicated family of volunteers we could never do what we do! On an annual basis we average about 50 volunteers including those that serve on our Board of Directors, our Mentors, event committee members and volunteers that help in our office.
I often hear from those we work with that they love the Guardian Angel Society because we are providing a lifelong solution to a global problem. Ensuring children have access to a quality education is a real solution to poverty. We instill in them the ability and values to provide for themselves, their families, and their communities and make the world a better place. We are impacting generations of people and opening doors to opportunities that may have never been possible without the Guardian Angel Society programs.
How can people sign up to volunteer?
The quickest way to do so is by visiting our website at www.GuardianAngelSoc.org, clicking on the Mentor & Tutor Program tab at the top, and then clicking on our volunteer application. You can provide us your contact information and what you might be interested in volunteering for.
You are also welcome to call our office directly at (315) 422-7218, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, we would love the opportunity to connect with you personally and discuss what interests you.
How many students have been helped?
In the 21+ years we have been in existence, we have helped hundreds of students graduate from high school. One thing that is very unique about our program is that we are the only one we know of in the country that commits to supporting a child starting in kindergarten and stays with them until high school graduation. Each school year, on average, we support 80+ students and provide $80,000-$100,000 in tuition assistance. Since our inception we have raised well over $2.5 million for Father’s kids.
Why are the services you provide essential to your student population?
The Guardian Angel scholars who rely on our tuition support and mentoring programs represent a very diverse population within our community. Our students include a large number of Sudanese, African American, Asian, Hispanic, multi-racial, and Caucasian children. Our scholar demographics include a large number of refugee families who often come to our country speaking little English. The stress of adapting to American culture and way of life is tremendous and this alone can present them with even more academic difficulties. Many of these students will not succeed in junior high school without literacy and math intervention. In addition, involvement with our mentors and tutors enables our students to graduate from high school on time.
How do you think you’re honoring Father Champlain’s legacy?
The success and growth of our many students is the greatest testament to Father’s lasting legacy. Guardian Angel Society scholars have a graduation rate of 99 percent! They have gone to fine colleges such as Georgetown, Notre Dame, Clarkson, Syracuse University, RIT, SUNY Cobleskill, OCC, the University of Rochester, and LeMoyne, to name a few. The first Guardian Angel scholars have now graduated from college and are establishing successful careers, starting families and contributing to the community.
Who better to answer that question than one of our recent graduates, Ater, who recently said, “Being one of Father Champlin’s children is an opportunity I am grateful for. The Guardian Angel Society kept my mind focused on my faith and my schoolwork. My mentor encouraged me to go after my dreams and to make choices that will give me a good life. Because of this, I plan to go to college and have a career as a computer engineer. Without this program, my life would not be what it is today. As one of Father Champlin’s children, I am blessed and grateful to share what I have gained and I look forward to being a mentor myself one day.”
And Ater is just one of hundreds of students who are out there making a brighter future for our community. It is in these children and their giving hearts that Father’s legacy lives on!
Is there anything I didn’t ask that you think people should know?
Our organization is small but mighty, with only one full time staff member and a total of 2.25 employees. We are truly grassroots and all the funds we raise are a result of the dedication and hard work of our Guardian Angel team, faithful volunteers, and generous individual and corporate donors. Each year we have far more requests for assistance than we have the resources available, so please know we would love the opportunity to meet more of the readers of Syracuse Woman Magazine and have you become part of our Guardian Angel family!