October 29, 2010

‘Christ Our Hope’ appeal supports charities across central and southern Indiana

(Editor’s note: The following article tells the story of a homeless single mother assisted by St. Elizabeth-Catholic Charities in New Albany. Only her first name is used to protect her identity.)

By Sean Gallagher

When she came to St. Elizabeth-Catholic Charities in New Albany six months ago, Jessica needed help and had nowhere else to turn.

She was a homeless 25-year-old mother struggling to care for her 1-year-old son.

Jessica and her son had moved last December from their home near Cincinnati, where she had grown up, to live with her mother.

Her husband left her shortly after she became pregnant in 2008. A few months after her son was born, Jessica was on the streets, moving from one friend or relative’s house to another.

She thought that she had a solution to her homelessness when her mother invited her to live with her in Louisville. But her mother’s own problems made living there impossible.

Finally, while living in a hotel in Jeffersonville, Jessica was referred to St. Elizabeth-Catholic Charities, an agency of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis’ Catholic Charities, which operates a transitional residence for homeless mothers and their children as well as several other ministries.

Having no friends or other relatives in the area that she could turn to, Jessica and her son were welcomed into the residence and lived there for nearly six months with the other residents.

“I have people that I can talk to,” said Jessica, who, after securing a job, is now in the process of moving into her own apartment. “There are counselors and case managers [that I can talk to] about any kind of need that I have. There’s always someone there to help.”

Katie Owens, the director of St. Elizabeth-Catholic Charities’ adoption and residential programs, was one of the people who helped Jessica.

“It’s stressful, but it’s very rewarding,” said Owens of her work at the agency. “To see someone like Jessica come here with literally nothing and no one, and to see the progress that she’s made in such a short period of time [is amazing].

“ … It’s always nice to know that, regardless of each girl’s situation, we’re helping to break that cycle of homelessness and poverty, and helping them to become better parents and build better families for our community.”

Mark Casper, the agency director of St. Elizabeth-Catholic Charities in New Albany, said assisting people like Jessica personalizes the statistics about poverty, homelessness and crisis pregnancies that are sometimes reported by the media.

“It’s very rewarding to put a face and a name to a number,” Casper said. “You hear the numbers on the news. But when you’re here every day, it stops being a number. You get to know them as people.”

The charitable ministries carried out at St. Elizabeth-Catholic Charities in New Albany are supported by Catholics who contribute to the “Christ Our Hope: Compassion in Community” annual appeal.

One of the significant changes in this year’s appeal allows participants to designate that their contributions stay to support charitable ministries in the region where they live.

For the appeal, the archdiocese is divided into five regions based on its 11 deaneries: Batesville and Connersville, Bloomington, Indianapolis, New Albany and Tell City, and Terre Haute.

Participants in the appeal can also choose to make their contributions support specific ministries, including those of Catholic Charities agencies in their area.

“In the two and a half years that I’ve been here, one of our goals has been to connect more to the deanery parishes, both [in] making sure that they’re aware we’re here and seeing how we can partner together,” Casper said. “The fact that on the actual pledge card [Catholics in this region] can [designate] contributions to us or to Tell City Catholic Charities just makes us a more visible part of their ministry. We’re all working together.”

The staff at St. Elizabeth-Catholic Charities reach out to those in need in southern Indiana through eight ministries. Among their clients are women in crisis pregnancies, families wishing to adopt children, developmentally delayed adults and homeless mothers like Jessica.

Catholic Charities staff members and volunteers in agencies across the archdiocese assisted more than 166,000 people during the past year, an increase of nearly 20 percent over the previous year.

That assistance is given through several programs facilitated by Catholic Charities agencies in Bloomington, Indianapolis, New Albany, Tell City and Terre Haute.

Although this increase in requests for assistance means that the efforts of those people involved in Catholic Charities’ ministries in central and southern Indiana can be stretched thin at times, they are still dedicated to putting the love of Christ into action.

“I love talking about this place,” said Owens of St. Elizabeth-Catholic Charities. “I love talking about my job. Sometimes, my friends have to tell me to shut up. But it really is such an awesome place to work because we are so blessed to have so many good supporters in our community.”

The real meaning of the ministries offered by Catholic Charities across the archdiocese and the growing number of people served by them is integrally related to how individuals like Jessica and her son are shown real love and concern.

“It means something when someone cares,” Jessica said.

(For more information about “Christ Our Hope: Compassion in Community,” log on to www.archindy.org/ChristOurHope.)

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