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 | By Karl Kuykendall | Guest Correspondent

Our Kids at Heart celebrates 10 years of helping families

Ten years ago, Father Mark Hamlet established “Our Kids at Heart,” a nonprofit aimed at accelerating the growth of Catholic schools through Catholic school tuition assistance for the underserved members of the Diocese of Austin.

As the pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Austin, he saw the need for and the tremendous benefit of assisting families with educating their children at Catholic elementary and high schools. Initially the program was confined to Sacred Heart Parish, but after extensive dialogue and guidance from Bishop Joe Vásquez, a diocesan-wide organization was approved.

Our Kids at Heart seeks to help the poorest, most disadvantaged families realize that they can send their children to Catholic school. The program is open to youth in all parishes, and participation often begins when a pastor identifies and recruits prospective students from families within his parish.

To be eligible, families must demonstrate financial need by submitting financial information and an application for independent review, and they must attend Mass regularly as a family. Typically, participating schools generously discount tuition to the participants. The sponsoring parishes of the participating students help fund tuition with supplemental payments from Our Kids at Heart. Based on their financial ability, the students’ families pay a portion of the cost as well. To date, over a dozen families have become financially stable enough to take over the tuition bill with no support from their parish or Our Kids at Heart.

Catholic school education has become a way to help families overcome dysfunctional or stressful home situations, Father Hamlet said.

“Sacraments take on more meaning” for the families, he said. “Parishes can help broken families and broken marriages heal. The parish grows stronger as these families heal and grow in faith and unity. Miracles happen. We are not just educating the children but healing families, including some of the most underprivileged, disadvantaged families in our diocese.”

Father Hamlet said the children also thrive as their families heal.

“100% of them are accepted into universities and exhibit a strong work-ethic. Some are now engineers, lawyers, accountants, and pre-med students,” he said.

During the 2022-2023 school year, over 260 children from some 175 families in Austin, Taylor, Temple, Waco, Bryan and Georgetown participated in the program across 12 of the 20 Catholic schools in the Austin Diocese. Given the explosive growth of Central Texas, more families are expected and will be welcomed.

As Our Kids at Heart looks forward to the next 10 years, more pastors will be encouraged to participate and get more of their families’ children in Catholic schools.

Father Hamlet, who recently retired from active ministry, will continue his work as the founder and chief recruiter of participating parishes.

“I want to continue to grow Catholic schools in our diocese. There is no other program healing and evangelizing entire families like this program.”

To follow and support Our Kids at Heart visit

Karl Kuykendall is a retired commercial bank executive and is a member of St. Mary Parish in Temple. He has lived in the Diocese of Austin for more than 50 years.

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