Catholic Charities Fort Worth partners with parishes to increase impact
When it comes to giving a hand to the impoverished, the needs are always greater than the capacity. To maximize the impact of charity and social ministry programs, Catholic Charities Fort Worth is partnering with parishes. So far, results are promising.
Kasey Whitley, director of CCFW’s parish social ministry and her team are crisscrossing the diocese to meet with pastors, ministry leaders, and volunteers to collaborate on how best to serve individuals and families on the margins of society.
Denise Koch, social outreach coordinator of St. Philip the Apostle Parish in Lewisville, has seen the parish’s relationship with CCFW grow stronger in her three years on the job.
“What Catholic Charities did was open us up to a better understanding of what [social ministry] should really look like and how to move forward, how to make adjustments, and how to manage the people’s expectations,” Koch said, adding that she communicates with CCFW a few times each month.
By working with CCFW and other community aid organizations, Koch has learned to mimic their best practices of determining who is eligible for aid, vetting clients’ needs, examining the sustainability of their efforts, and working collaboratively to find more resources.
Koch, who came from a business management position with American Airlines, called CCFW “instrumental in learning how it’s done,” and noted that the parish’s social ministry has become more systematic, more accountable, and more robust.
At times, it can even be creative, she said, giving an example of telling a client that after they found employment, the parish would match the first month’s income.
DOING MORE, TOGETHER
According to Whitley, parishes and CCFW bring different strengths to their common goal to assist the least of these.
Parishes have insights into the community’s needs, committed volunteers, and visibility in the neighborhood or town.
CCFW, meanwhile, brings resources for short-term assistance as well as data-driven strategies to eliminate poverty, which includes programs to help clients realize the employment, education, and financial goals necessary to be self-sufficient.
The first step of the alliance often begins with a parish referring a person to CCFW, if the person has needs greater than the parish can meet. CCFW has adopted an electronic system for direct referrals from parishes, which is more streamlined and efficient than phone calls. Whitley estimated that 90 percent of their parish referrals this year have been electronic.
Whitley said CCFW responds to the referral within three to five days, then communicates to the parish if the agency can help the client. If not, the agency may suggest other community resources.
Another benefit of the collaboration can be measured in dollars and cents. Say a client’s car broke down so they can’t get to work, and they face eviction. The parish and CCFW can work together to provide complementary assistance. CCFW’s funds are often restricted to utility or housing assistance, but parish resources tend to be more flexible and could help with a car repair.
Forming parish referral partners with the 91 parishes of the diocese is a slow and deliberate process, said Whitley, as each parish has its own needs and resources, and CCFW customizes its approach for each particular parish. Plus, CCFW frequently evaluates data generated by their parish referral partners, and then tweaks the program to become more effective.
The nonprofit piloted parish referral partners about two years ago, and its goal is that 80 percent of parishes will be on board by 2023.
This year, Whitley said, parishes alone have referred more than 800 clients to CCFW, which has dispensed more than $500,000 to meet those requests.
“We can serve more this way,” explained Whitley. “When we deputize and empower people at the parishes to do some of this legwork of getting client information and determining their eligibility, then we’re able to go out and serve more. We’re able to do it faster and better.”
If you deputize all the social ministry volunteers at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish, you’d run out of badges.
The Keller parish had a robust social ministry program when Patricia Gonzalez became its director of outreach in August.
As many as 200 volunteers would show up for its monthly sandwich-making for the homeless, and much of the parish participates in holiday food drives, an angel tree program, and collections of non-perishable food and toiletry items, to name a few.
“The success of an outreach office depends on two vital pieces: a strong volunteer corps… but also the support of your leadership,” Gonzalez said, citing Father James Flynn’s philosophy. “If there’s a need out there, he wants to meet that need.”
Earlier this year, Whitley visited the parish for “a very, very active meeting with a ton of idea sharing and synergy,” Gonzalez remembered. “What I didn’t realize I was looking for was how can we complement [CCFW’s] services and make sure the clients we see, the clients that CCFW sees, how can we make sure their needs are being met.”
For the short term, Gonzalez said the social ministry volunteers at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton are better informed to know what financial assistance CCFW can provide and to refer clients to CCFW’s working family services program.
Gonzalez said the parish and agency can work together to “get clients further away from crisis mode, and in a place where they can start making more rational and better decisions.”
The outreach director expects the partnership with CCFW will help accomplish some future goals also. She hopes the parish will become a baby closet for Gabriel Project, a CCFW program for mothers in crisis pregnancies.
“A successful outreach program is one that will hold the hand of that client through any stage they are in, whether it’s a young mom with an unplanned pregnancy, whether it’s someone with school-aged kids… or an older adult on a super limited income,” Gonzalez said.
Whitley continues to meet with the outreach ministry at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, sharing ideas and her knowledge base. For example, Whitley knew of a parish that developed a strong Gabriel Project ministry and recommended that Gonzalez contact them for ideas.
As Koch coordinates social ministry at St. Philip the Apostle Parish, she taps into the wisdom and assistance of CCFW, other local aid groups, and the Holy Spirit.
She said, “Honestly, I pray to the Holy Spirit before I help anybody, ask Him to guide me and give me the tools that I need to be able to assist them in the way that He desires. Sometimes it’s just loving that person where they are.
“I have homeless people that will come in and [I tell them] ‘You’re a child of God and you’re beautiful.’ And I treat them with dignity and kindness and respect and love.”
When it comes to helping those in need, parishes and CCFW have a long history of being compassionate, generous, and merciful. By adding parish referral partnerships to their operations manual, they’ve now added “strategic.”