Local father hopes to start Catholic IT training school for those with disabilities

Patrick Romzek, right, is pictured with his son, Andrew. Romzek is the founder of St. Andrew Academy, a prospective post-high school IT training program for people with disabilities. The Our Lady of Victory parishioner has established similar programs across the world, drawing on Andrew’s experience with Down’s syndrome, but the local academy would be the first to incorporate a Catholic faith curriculum. (Photos courtesy of Patrick Romzek)

St. Andrew Academy would be the first Catholic IT training program for people with disabilities in the country, Patrick Romzek says

NORTHVILLE  Patrick Romzek sees it as his mission in life to help those with disabilities help themselves. 

The lifelong Catholic’s son, Andrew, has Down syndrome, and after a career in information technology and seeing what could be done for an underserved population, Romzek went to work establishing programs to teach those with disabilities skills they need for a career in IT. 

Romzek has established Bridge to Opportunity programs all over the world, but now is setting his sights on something closer to home: establishing North America’s first Catholic IT training program for people with disabilities, to be called St. Andrew Academy 

“When I was in the IT industry, we were hiring many people, but still had trouble finding people for entry-level jobs,” Romzek told Detroit Catholic. “At the same time, as a special needs dad, I was horrified at the level of unemployment for people with disabilities.” 

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the labor participation rate for people with disabilities is just 20.6 percent, versus around 69 percent for the general population. 

“People with disabilities would much rather work than live on public assistance their whole life,” said Romzek, a parishioner of Our Lady of Victory in Northville. “Most people see jobs like bagging groceries at Kroger or working at McDonalds as jobs for the disabled, but they are capable of far more. They just lack the education and work experience for a typical IT job.” 

Romzek has established programs called “Bridge Academies” across the world to teach IT skills to those with disabilities, a passion close to his heart, given the low work-participate rate in the disabled community. 

Romzek collaborated with his contacts in the IT industry, as well as those within the Archdiocese of Detroit’s disability ministry and the Catholic Disability Foundation to establish St. Andrew Academy, a remote/in-person hybrid program for Catholics and non-Catholics. 

The hope is to establish a 20-week program for 15-25 students that will cover IT technical skills, workplace etiquette and professionalism and spiritual companionship akin to young adult ministry, where young professionals can develop their faith in a post-sacramental prep setting. 

Romzek is still discussing details with parishes and schools, but at least two schools, Divine Child in Dearborn and Our Lady of the Lakes in Waterford, have hosted information nights to gauge interest in the program. 

“We also received strong support from the Knights of Columbus, who have helped us with startup costs and advocating on our behalf,” said Romzek, adding the project has the backing of the archdiocese’s Office of Catholic Schools. 

Upon completion, students will receive a CISCO certified technician certificate that is recognized by companies in nearly 200 countries around the world. 

“The St. Andrew Academy will include IT training and certification, ready-for-work training, because many candidates have never held professional jobs. It will also include Faith Pathways, a faith and spiritual development program,” Romzek said. “The program is geared toward young adults, but there is no age limit. It’s tuition-free, and will likely lead to a meaningful job in information technology as an IT technician. These jobs pay $30,000-$40,000 a year.” 

Romzek named St. Andrew Academy after his son, but also for St. Andrew, the first disciple of Jesus, who was called to be a “fisher of men.” St. Andrew Academy looks to serve those on the peripheries, just as Jesus reached those on the peripheries in his earthly ministry.

St. Andrew Academy will receive its funding from Michigan Rehabilitation Services for the IT training, as well as the Knights of Columbus, who are sponsoring the Faith Pathways programs that is being developed by the Archdiocese of Detroit for interested candidates. 

Both the National Catholic Partnership on Disability and the National Catholic Education Association are endorsing Romzek’s one-of-a-kind program, offering help with the faith curriculum. 

“Neither organization knows about any program like this out there,” Romzek said. “They see it as transformative. And if we’re successful in the Archdiocese of Detroit, our plan, our hope, with the help of the Holy Spirit, is to expand it not only across the archdiocese, but to lots of other dioceses.” 

Romzek looks to the Gospel’s example of Jesus reaching out to the edges of society as an example to follow. 

“This is my calling; this is what we can do to help people,” Romzek said. “This is very meaningful for me, to help people achieve a better life, both in better employment and a better faith life. From the Church’s point of view, this is a great opportunity to reach people who are often left behind.”

Romzek hopes to launch St. Andrew Academy sometime in 2021, and looks to the intercession of St. Andrew, his son’s namesake and patron saint, to make it happen.

“St. Andrew is the first disciple of Jesus, and we believe this is the first program of its kind,” Romzek said. “St. Andrew is the patron of fisherman, and from the Gospel, Jesus called him to become a fisher of men. In our belief, there’s the ancient proverb that, ‘give a man a fish, he eats for a day. But teach a man to fish, he’ll eat forever.’”

St. Andrew Academy

To learn more about the mission and vision of St. Andrew Academy, visit https://www.standrewacademy.org/