By Tim Leeds
St. Jude Thaddeus School's annual family dance has a special focus this year: making sure a St. Jude's teacher can travel to receive a national award for the second year in a row.
Karen Kamla, a sixth-grade teacher at St. Jude's, will receive an award as Outstanding Educator of the Year for the northwestern region containing Montana, Alaska, Idaho, Oregon and Washington, at the National Catholic Education Association convention in Atlantic City, N.J. She was selected based on a nomination by her school.
Kamla was honored at last year's convention in Milwaukee as a grand winner for submitting an article to the "Great Ideas" program in Today's Catholic Teacher magazine. St. Jude's Home and School organization received the Distinguished Parent Partnership Award at the Milwaukee convention.
Kamla said she didn't expect to receive awards two years in a row.
"I'm shocked, slightly intimidated and extremely excited," she said.
Kim Bates, president of Home and School, said her organization decided to use the annual dance on Jan. 26, which kicks off Catholic Schools Week each year, to help ensure that the school would have the money to send Kamla to the convention.
"The school let us know about this fabulous award and asked if we could help," she said.
Bates said Home and School went into the community and asked if people could help, particularly with donating items for the silent auction at the dance.
"They were wonderful. They helped us in a lot of ways," she said.
Bates said the local car dealers surprised her with some special help. After she contacted North Star Dodge, the dealership contacted other dealers and asked them to make cash donations to help pay for Kamla's trip, she said. North Star, Tilleman Chevrolet, Havre Ford and Badland Auto all made cash contributions.
"I could not have secured that without Pat McCarthy at Dodge," she said. "He was the legs for the whole thing."
Principal Therese Cowdery said the community has really gotten behind the fund-raising dance.
"There's been tremendous support from the community," she said.
Twenty-six large items have been donated by local businesses for the silent auction, and Bates said many other donations have been made by people in the community. The dance involves all organizations of the school, including the Booster Club and the Alumni Association as well as Home and School. It is a fund-raiser for the Catholic school, with a booth to take photos, concessions, the silent auction and the dance, with Kirt Miller's band providing live music. The dance is in the Havre Central gymnasium, with the other activities in the social hall next door.
Bates said they decided to use Mardi Gras as the theme this year. This year Home and School will sell hot food consistent with that theme.
Cowdery said that with the auto dealers' contributions, the school should definitely have enough after the dance to send Kamla to receive her award. The convention is enormous, she said, with about 15,000 educators attending each year.
Kamla said the trip is a learning experience for her.
"It's a great opportunity to see fellow educators and talk to them about what they do in their classrooms, and see the problems that they have that are similar or different from mine."
She added that this trip is particularly special because it is the 20th annual awards ceremony and banquet to honor Catholic elementary educators.
The St. Jude dance, which begins at 7 p.m. and ends at 11 p.m., costs $4 a person or $10 per family. Cowdery said she encourages people to attend it as a family event.