The Apostle Paul famously told the Galatians that, “A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough.”
The simple principle — that one small piece can change the whole — is evident in the Jones family at Saint Stephen’s Episcopal School in Bradenton.
After the school’s new athletic complex opened in 2013, Lethario and Marjani Jones were thrilled. Their son, Lethario Jr., was a football and track star, and their daughter LeNae played four varsity sports. But the state-of-the-art facility seemed to be taken for granted by many at the school, where tuition last year was $22,000.
So the Jones’ started picking up trash after games.
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Soon other parents joined in after games, and the sense of stewardship spread.
“See that is the leven in the loaf,” said Dennis Kezar, a retired Episcopal priest, former Saint Stephen’s board member and the founder and director of the Father Kezar Opening Doors Foundation.
Kezar has reason to be excited about about the Jones’ impact on Saint Stephen’s — they wouldn’t be at the school is it wasn’t for his organization.
Kezar’s Foundation helps families pay for tuition at Saint Stephen’s in an effort to create more economic diversity at Saint Stephen’s. The school runs from kindergarten through 12th grade and is one of the premier private schools in the Manatee-Sarasota area.
Kezar’s foundation has committed $184,000 to help families afford Saint Stephen’s, and it has provided aid to 41 students. All families receiving assistance from the foundation pay part of their way as well, and Kezar said they look for families who will be “assets to the school in every way.”
Lethario Jr. and LeNae were some of the first beneficiaries when they started at the school in eighth and seventh grade respectively, and they turned out to be a good investment.
“What they brought was leadership of a spiritual kind to the school,” Kezar said.
In addition to being sports stars and high academic achievers, the siblings brought with them a strong Biblical foundation to the Episcopal school where chapel services often showcase a variety of religions. While their traditional background may run counter to Saint Stephen’s progressive tilt, they see the school’s religious diversity as a way to better understand their own faith.
“One of my friends is Bhuddist and we talk a lot about that. We go back and forth, mostly trying to see why he believes what he believes in and why I believe in what I believe in,” Lethario said. “And we don’t always agree.”
You can't learn much from somebody that agrees with you. You learn more by stretching your mind.
- Foundation founder and director Dennis Kezar
Kezar said that type of disagreement is why he wants diversity at Saint Stephen’s.
“You can’t learn much from somebody that agrees with you,” Kezar said. “You learn more by stretching your mind.”
He said, while the children who get to attend Saint Stephen’s obviously benefit from the foundation, the school benefits just as much. The Jones bring a perspective to parenting and community that stand out at the school. Lethario Sr. said his time volunteering with sports teams at the school has led to conversations about parenting.
“They’ll say, ‘Hey, how can I get my kids to pay attention?’ They’ll have this big yacht, and they’ll say, ‘What can I do?’ ” Jones said. “So we started pouring out Christ, saying this is what we believe. Christ is our Lord and savior. If people see Christ in you, they wanna know what you got.”
His wife Marjani said Saint Stephens, for all of its wealth, is still a needy community
“You think coming here there aren’t a lot needs, but there are,” Marjani said. “It doesn’t mater if you have millions or hundreds. For everybody, there’s that spiritual piece, and a lot of needs in every community.”
It doesn’t mater if you have millions or hundreds. For everybody, there’s that spiritual piece, and a lot of needs in every community.
- Marjani Jones, mother of two St. Stephen’s students
Kezar is hoping to secure an endowment for the foundation so it can continue to help students attend the school.
“We are working with potential corporate sponsors as well as some people that have a heart for this sort of thing to include it in their wills,” Kezar said. “We have a couple of potential donors and we would sure welcome more.”
For more information on the foundation, see www.fatherkezaropeningdoorsfoundation.com, email Kezar at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call him at 941-677-3618.