Brick by brick, groups building cash

Published 11:31 pm Sunday, March 16, 2008

VICKSBURG (AP) — More and more organizations in Vicksburg are preserving the present and funding the future with a practice that has become a popular way to pay for projects: selling personalized bricks.

‘‘I’ve been told that it’s the No. 1 fundraiser in the nation. I’ve seen a lot of them done,’’ said Alan Orlicek, an Arcola-based artisan who has imprinted names and messages into thousands of bricks for such projects, including several in the Vicksburg.

Though he does other work, too, he said name-a-brick campaigns have become a cottage industry for him.

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Orlicek said he has made commemorative bricks for churches, schools and school stadiums, garden clubs and other organizations.

Bricks outside St. Michael Catholic Church commemorate events such as baptisms, confirmations, weddings and anniversaries. Some are inscribed in memory of deceased relatives or with names of living parishioners.

‘‘We were looking to correct a drainage problem between the church and the parish hall,’’ said Sharon Andrews, who was president of the parish council that hired Orlicek to sandblast donors’ messages onto some of the bricks that were used for the new walkway.

At St. Mary’s Catholic Church, bricks to be part of a walkway yet to be installed leading to an entrance on the south side of the church are on sale. For $50, donors can write names or messages up to three lines and 45 characters. Rather than having a bake sale or raffle to raise money, it is hoped that the walkway will pay for itself.

‘‘Quite a few have been sold,’’ said John Ferguson, president of the men’s club at St. Mary’s. ‘‘We hope to have it completed by the end of this year.’’

The church celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2006, and the brick walkway — sometimes called ‘‘brick gardens’’ — is part of the commemoration.

Andrews said another member of the St. Michael parish council suggested selling bricks based on successful projects at St. Aloysius High School and Purks YMCA.

Andrews said she and her husband, Ronnie, bought a brick at the YMCA, and her graduating class of 1980 bought several bricks at St. Aloysius, including two that memorialize deceased classmates Bob McConnell and Harry Hossley.

About 160 bricks have sold so far at St. Michael, she said, adding that her church is not yet close to recouping the costs of the initial project.

At St. Michael, $50 buys a 4-inch-by-8-inch brick. For a longer message, $100 will buy an 8-inch-by-8-inch brick.

Recently, parishioners have ordered bricks with the names of youngsters who are going through confirmation, and Andrews said she hopes these will serve as a permanent marker of faith.

‘‘Every time they walk by and see it, it’s a physical reminder of their spiritual journey,’’ she said.

Orders come in every day, said church secretary Cindee Griffith.

‘‘Each brick can be in memory of someone or can be in celebration of something,’’ she said.

A brick garden started by St. Aloysius High School’s Class of 2005 to raise funds for a senior trip to Chattanooga was so successful the school’s development office took it over that summer, after the seniors had graduated, said Lynne Abraham, of the development office.

‘‘The seniors raised $19,000 to begin with, and since then we’ve probably pulled in $6,000,’’ Abraham said. ‘‘There’s definitely money to be made off this.’’

Landscaping the brick garden was a major cost, easily recouped, Abraham said. Unmarked bricks are set in sand so they can be replaced with inscribed ones as more orders come in. About 400 in the St. Aloysius walkway contain messages.

‘‘It’s been a pretty good fundraiser,’’ Abraham said. ‘‘I think it’s because it’s something permanent. It’s in the ground and it leaves a mark on the school.’’

Bricks at the Purks YMCA recognize those who donated more than $500 during the Y’s capital campaign in 1999 that raised $3.8 million.

‘‘It’s a tasteful, permanent recognition,’’ said YMCA director Herb Wilkinson.

In a similar move, selling tiles with the handprints of toddlers has helped Vicksburg Junior Auxiliary members raise funds for a playground to be constructed next month. The tiles, when glazed and fired, will be part of the playground decor.

Information from: Vicksburg Post,