August 9, 2013

Catholic Help Network hopes to raise awareness of how to serve others

By John Shaughnessy

Catholic Help Network logoWhen David Siler stresses the advantages of the new Catholic Help Network, he recalls two conversations with people who were struggling with the best way to help people in need.

The first conversation was with a pastor of a parish located on a busy city street, a parish where people often walked in seeking help to pay for food, rent or some other need.

“The pastor told me, ‘Whether I help or don’t help, I don’t feel good about my decision,’ ” recalls Siler, executive director of Catholic Charities in the archdiocese. “Other pastors and parish secretaries said the same thing—that even with people in their own parishes they weren’t sure what resources were out there to help people.”

The second conversation took place when Siler and his wife went to dinner with another couple.

“One of our friends said, ‘I really want to serve the poor, but I really don’t know who they are or where they are,’ ” Siler says. “So that’s one of our hopes for the Catholic Help Network—to raise awareness of what’s out there so people can apply their gifts to help others.”

Launched in late July, the Catholic Help Network is an easily accessed database——that lists the services, resources and ministries of more than 200 parishes, schools, agencies, hospitals and organizations across the archdiocese.

One of the main emphases of the network is helping parishes make good referrals to aid people.

“You don’t always have to provide the service, but if you can refer them to that service, that’s a real blessing,” Siler notes. “The network lets pastors and parishes send them to someone who knows how to help and help them sort through their need.”

The Catholic Help Network can also help parishes tap into the programs and resources of other parishes—to gain information or to avoid mistakes in setting up programs.

“There was no place to find that information,” Siler says. “If someone wants to start a Harvest for the Hungry program, St. Matthew [Parish in Indianapolis] has been doing that for 20 years. Or maybe a parish doesn’t have the resources to start their own program, so maybe it can join the effort of another parish.

“Parishes so often reinvent the wheel. Usually, one or two parishioners start a program, and they struggle. There is so much wisdom out there in the archdiocese, and people are so generous about sharing their expertise—do this, don’t do this. The network will help parishes feel empowered to be helpful to folks in a way they couldn’t before.”

Schools can also use the Catholic Help Network for the benefit of their students and families, according to Joseph Heidt, president of Providence Cristo Rey High School in Indianapolis.

Heidt says the database will be another great resource for the counselors and teachers at Providence Cristo Rey as they work with students, many of whom come from low-income families.

“Having a tool for both our counseling team and our teachers to not only express compassion for a situation but to also look up resources to help the students and their families, I think that’s essential,” Heidt notes. “When our families get the help they might need, it allows our students to redirect their focus back on what they’re trying to accomplish in school.”

The number of resources, programs and ministries on the network reflects the dramatic difference that Catholics make to help others, Siler says.

“I think people will be impressed by the breadth and the depth of what we do. That’s one of the things that really makes me proud to be a Catholic. Catholics are so generous. We are so present to so many people. We hope this will let them discover new ways to help.”

The goal of the new network is an extension of the age-old goal of being a Christian, Siler says.

“The whole idea is to give people more of an opportunity to live out their baptismal call to serve the least among us.” †

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