In her dreams, Katie Loftus Riley’s fundraising campaign for her school’s building project would feature a song written by a famous country singer that’s played at every public appearance and even highlighted on a video at the top of the singer’s web page. In her dreams, Riley would have exclusive rights to the song so that every time it’s sold or played, the royalties come to the campaign.
For Riley, it’s no dream. It’s real. As real as Jo Dee Messina, the country music star who happens to be a supporter of Riley’s school, Holy Trinity Montessori, and who wrote the song “Carry Me” as a contribution to the school’s Million Door Campaign. The idea Messina came up with, says Riley, is to raise the $2.3 million needed to build an addition onto the school by asking 2.3 million people to each donate a dollar. The video features scenes of Riley and the children with their teachers while the song plays in the background.
“We launched the campaign so people can go to this website and click on a button and give a dollar,” Messina says on the video. “And our gift back to you is a song called ‘Carry Me’ that talks about ‘carry me down this road a little while’ and that’s what we’re asking people to do—carry us. We’re just asking people to carry us just for a bit, carry these kids and their school, carry our dream.”
Riley, who graduated with an education degree and Montessori certification in 1998, began the school after teaching at a private Montessori school in Nashville and realizing she wanted to offer a program with a Christian element and a lower tuition than traditional Montessori schools. She found a Lutheran church with a declining congregation and lots of unused space that overlooks seven acres of fields and woods.
It was a perfect match, Riley says. The school opened in August 2009 with 26 children, pre-school through kindergarten. A modular classroom was added this year and the school now has 46 students with 40 on the waiting list. Next year Riley’s adding first through third grades. She has five other Montessori-certified teachers in the classrooms.
For Riley, the school is a labor of love, especially when she witnesses children having “aha!” learning moments. “This is not just my job, it’s become my life and the mission of what I’ve been called to do. It’s a joy, it’s not work at all.”
But for the school to grow through at least fifth grade, the building must grow, too. So far, she’s raised only $50,000. Undeterred, she’s pushed back the project and is holding fundraising events. She even appeared with Messina on the Today show last summer. “Jo Dee wanted to help me reach my dream to build a school,” Riley says. “She’s saying, ‘At a time when the news is bad, can you help someone else build their dream?’ ”