June 7, 2013

Faith, Hope and Charity / David Siler

Leading the way in reducing poverty

David SilerAs previously reported in The Criterion, all five Indiana bishops and about 100 Catholic leaders from health care, education, social services and business gathered on April 26 at the Center for Social Concerns on the campus of the University of Notre Dame in northern Indiana.

The purpose of this first-ever gathering of its kind was to take a good, hard and honest look at the state of poverty in Indiana and its impact on our citizens, how the Catholic Church is responding and how we could even more effectively respond in the future.

Although the topic itself is rather bleak, the enthusiasm to improve our service to the poor and to lead the way in innovative solutions is strong.

Among the group gathered, there was general agreement that even within our own Catholic institutions, we can improve our effectiveness and impact by collaborating more and sharing among ourselves what we are already doing. We agreed that we need to learn from one another what works best in moving people permanently out of poverty, oftentimes generational poverty.

What was made clear about what works best in reducing or eliminating poverty was highlighted by looking at what Catholic Charities does in refugee resettlement and disaster relief—both highly successful programs.

The common practice in these programs is what in social services is termed “case management.” This is simply the assignment of a highly trained individual who works closely with an individual or a family to provide customized care and linkages to services. Case management works because it recognizes that the issues that individuals and families face are varied and complex and there are no “one-size-fits-all” solutions.

An important insight that the strategy of case management can provide is that it can fairly easily be adapted to volunteerism.

Although case managers are often trained professionals, much of the benefit of having an individual—or family for that matter—assigned to work with an individual or family is the hope that can be instilled by having an advocate who is working alongside the “client” who often times has little to no access to the connections made by a mentor.

A very successful example of a volunteer driven mentoring program is called Circles Out of Poverty, whose web address is www.MoveTheMountain.org. The Circles program believes that “responsibility for both poverty and prosperity rests not only in the hands of individuals, but also with societies, institutions, and communities.” This, and many similar models, allows for all of us—the faithful of God—to become actively engaged in working with the poor and leading the way out.

A follow-up step that the poverty summit planning committee would like to take is to gather Catholic business professionals with the purpose of bringing to bear their entrepreneurial and wealth-creation skills on the elimination of poverty.

One way to look at poverty is to consider its root causes and address those root causes, while another way is to look at the root causes of the creation of assets or wealth.

Business leaders are experts in this regard as well as experts in changing course midstream when something is not working. Poverty reduction has a history of doing the same things over and over again with the same dismal results.

Stay tuned for more good news as our state leads the way in reducing poverty!

(David Siler is the executive director of the archdiocesan Secretariat for Catholic Charities and Family Ministries. E-mail him at dsiler@archindy.org.)

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