by Ken Williams
Saint Teresa of Calcutta once said, “Never worry about numbers. Help one person at a time.” It’s a mantra Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas has put into practice for the last 60 years.
We began by providing adoption services to our community. We quickly added “safety net” services to help those in crisis with immediate survival needs such as food, clothing and shelter.
Over the years, we recognized the need to work with families after they had been stabilized: We needed to help strengthen them to handle the next crisis and to move toward self-sufficiency.
So, we set out to develop programs and services that attack what we believe are true root causes of poverty: 1) un/underemployment; 2) lack of an adequate education; and 3) the breakup of the family.
So where are we today? Our emergency assistance centers continue to be a place where our neighbors in need come for help with the basics. In the 2016 fiscal year, we provided food assistance 248,480 times and utility assistance 8,627 times. We distributed clothing over 17,000 times and helped with housing nearly 4,000 times.
But, more than just being a location that offers a safety net, Catholic Charities staff and volunteers work to dispense HOPE: hope of a better future. Our nine emergency assistance centers are also where those we serve come to learn how to build and balance their family budget, how to eliminate debt, how to provide better nutrition for their family and how to improve their employment situation.
To date, 108 people have participated in our Family Financial Transformations™ program and collectively eliminated more than $192,000 in debt. Several families were able to place a down payment on a home.
Through our Kansas Loan Pool Project, we have helped convert more than 150 high-interest payday and title loans into 6 percent fixed interest loans. We’re proud that the number of individuals who received financial literacy education through our ministry increased over 70 percent during our last fiscal year. We are helping families break the cycle of debt.
And where are we going? We’re contemplating the feasibility of operating a center that would help eliminate barriers — such as transportation and child care — that prevent those we serve from getting the education needed to earn trade certifications that are needed to fill attractive employment opportunities in our area. Our goal is to help them attain livable wage jobs that lead to self-sufficiency. It’s really about offering hope for a brighter future for themselves and the generations to come after them.
We take to heart what St. Teresa of Calcutta once said, “Many people mistake our work for our vocation. Our vocation is the love of Jesus.”