February 8, 2019

A mission of compassion: Catholic Charities marks 100 years of helping society’s most vulnerable

During a visit to the archdiocese’s Crisis Office in Indianapolis, Takecia Keys, left, gets help filling out a food selection form from David Bethuram, center, executive director of Catholic Charities in the archdiocese, and Zach Sperka, assistant director of the Crisis Office. (Submitted photo)

During a visit to the archdiocese’s Crisis Office in Indianapolis, Takecia Keys, left, gets help filling out a food selection form from David Bethuram, center, executive director of Catholic Charities in the archdiocese, and Zach Sperka, assistant director of the Crisis Office. (Submitted photo)

By John Shaughnessy

For David Bethuram, there’s one defining reality as Catholic Charities marks its 100th anniversary in the archdiocese this year.

To him, the landmark anniversary means that for 100 years the Church in central and southern Indiana has made a major commitment to helping people who find themselves in vulnerable situations, including the 200,000 people who have been helped in the past year.

(Related: How can you or your family assist Catholic Charities? Here are three ways)

“We were founded over a century ago by men and women who believed that the collective efforts of the Church to faithfully serve people in need could change the course of poverty in our archdiocese,” says Bethuram, the executive director of Catholic Charities in the archdiocese.

“Although a lot has changed since our founding in 1919, our mission has remained constant: to provide service to those in need, to advocate compassion and justice in the structures of society, and to call all people of goodwill to do the same.”

As Catholic Charities marks its 100th anniversary, The Criterion invited Bethuram to share his insights on how the archdiocese is continuing its efforts to make an impact on today’s pressing concerns of poverty, homelessness, refugee resettlement, caregiver support and the opioid crisis.

Here is an edited version of that exchange.

Q. In the winter months, the year‑round challenge of homelessness is even more of a concern in most people’s eyes. Talk about this challenge. and the efforts of Catholic Charities to help the homeless, particularly families.

A. “Catholic Charities agencies in the archdiocese serve at nearly every point in the housing continuum, from providing financial assistance for rent and utility payments to emergency shelter and transitional housing programs. We also help to resolve issues that may lead to homelessness.

“From this wide perspective, we see the emotional, physical and financial toll being levied upon families and individuals as a result of the lack of available affordable housing and services for families who face a number of critical issues: health, loss of job and incarceration.

“We believe that a safe and decent home allows parents to maintain jobs, children to stay in the same schools, and the local economy to be supported. Having a home also underscores the inherent dignity of the persons who live there.”

Q. What’s the extent of families who are affected by homelessness?

A. “According to data from the National Alliance to End Homelessness, on a single night 33 percent of the homeless population are families with children. This is true for Indiana.”

Q. Talk about the extra efforts to help the homeless during the winter.

A. “Catholic Charities housing programs work with other community providers to have a winter contingency plan to help homeless who are outside in the cold. These plans provide outreach teams who will pick up and take people to an overnight shelter. This is for the homeless, stranded or for those without heat. Many local churches and other nonprofits work together to provide these services.”

Q. The rise of opioid abuse and addiction continues as an epidemic in Indiana and the United States. Are Catholic Charities agencies in the archdiocese seeing the impact of this epidemic on individuals and families? And how are Catholic Charities programs and services helping to address this crisis?

A. “Catholic Charities has been involved in various communities in the archdiocese in response to the deadly opioid epidemic. Many of our programs connect families with skilled addiction counselors and other professionals providing information, resources and unique firsthand perspectives around substance use disorder and its impact on families.

“Substance use addiction is often narrowly viewed through the lens of the individuals struggling firsthand. The burden for families is often unrecognized, resulting in many unanswered questions, intense emotional pain and strong feelings of hopelessness.

“Catholic Charities is working with other human service providers to proactively help families address their needs—and discover new ways to cope and reduce their own suffering. This includes people from all faith traditions and all walks of life.”

Q. Because of changes in policy at the federal government level, the number of refugees entering the country has been on the decline. Still, helping refugees who are coming here—and refugees and immigrants who have been here—remains a priority for Catholic Charities. How has Catholic Charities continued its efforts to help refugees and immigrants?

A. “Refugees come from extreme poverty, violence or religious and political persecution in their homelands—seeking a better life for themselves and their families.

“There are 65.3 million forcibly displaced people worldwide, refugees who left their home, where it was too dangerous to stay. More than 21 million refugees—over half of whom are under the age of 18—live in confinement in camps in adjacent countries, in squalor, amidst disease and deprivation. Less than 1 percent of refugees are resettled. Most live their lives in refugee camps.

“Catholic Charities is one of the agencies serving refugees who are resettled in Indianapolis and throughout the outer regions of the archdiocese. Catholic Charities resettles about 200 refugees a year. More than 10,000 refugees have been resettled by Catholic Charities in this community since 1975.”

Q. Overall, what is life like for the refugee families who have found a home in the archdiocese?

A. “The families we are resettling are succeeding in their new life here in Indiana. One hundred percent of the refugees who are able and at the age to work are finding work. Refugee children are progressing nicely in schools and in the neighborhoods where refugees have settled. We’re beginning to see ethnic grocery stores, auto sales and specialty shops.

“These refugees come from far-reaching parts of the world—Burma, Bhutan, Iraq, Congo and Sudan. All have hopes of a better and safer life in the United States for them and their families. The goal is to strengthen our community by assisting these new Americans so that refugees, migrants and people on the move are treated with dignity, respect, welcome and belonging.

“Catholic Charities Immigration Legal Services provides legal advice and representation to immigrants and their families. Our program is designed to guide clients through the immigration process with care and efficiency.”

Q. Statistics show that having enough food to eat is a problem that faces about 20 percent of Indiana households with children. Food insecurity is also a concern for senior citizens, and for many people who live in rural and inner-city areas. Talk about the problem of food insecurity and how it impacts people.

A. “Whether it’s a meal at home or in a restaurant, odds are most people choose the foods that support their unique tastes and nutritional needs. But what if poverty robbed you of that choice? Would you have the health and energy for school or work? Who would you turn to for help? The connection is simple: Food equals health, and health equals wealth and security.

“Poverty and hunger go hand in hand. According to Census.gov, the poverty rate in 2017 was 14.8 percent of the U.S. population. That sounds low until you realize this is 46.7 million people. That means one out of every five children in our country is living in poverty. 

“Feeding Indiana’s Hungry revealed in May 2018 that food insecurity exists in every county in Indiana. Overall food insecurity in Indiana ranges from a low of 8.8 percent of the population in Hamilton County up to 18.3 percent in Marion County. People in poverty worry about their ability to survive and find their next meal.”

Q. How is Catholic Charities in the archdiocese trying to make a difference in this basic need of life?

A. “The Church provides much-needed food programs through Catholic Charities, parish food pantries and the St. Vincent de Paul Society.

“Catholic Charities also provides summer food programs for children and youth, and with the generosity of donors and thousands of volunteers, prepares quality food which is served daily in our shelter and housing programs. Without these vital ministries and the support of amazing volunteers and donors, thousands more would be vulnerable to starting a downward spiral of health, income and housing.”

Q. Our population in Indiana and in the United States continues to become older and grayer. How does Catholic Charities in the archdiocese meet the needs of this older age group?

A. “Depending on a senior’s location in the archdiocese, Catholic Charities provides assistance to seniors, including emergency housing, mental health services, adult day care service, food, clothing and utility assistance. We also have programs for low-income seniors who wish to provide volunteer work in the community and become a companion to another homebound, fragile, older adult.”

Q. How does Catholic Charities help support caregivers?

A. “Family members are the primary providers of long-term care for loved ones. Unfortunately, there is nothing simple about caregiving. The Caregiver Support Program enables family members to maintain their quality of life and culture while caring for their loved one at home. This is accomplished by providing support to caregivers to ensure they have the resources to meet the needs of caring for a loved one, including support for them.”

Q. “Personally, what does it mean to you to be involved in the efforts of Catholic Charities in the archdiocese as it marks its 100th year?

A. “I have had the privilege of serving in a leadership role in Catholic Charities for 22 years. One of the pleasures for me is just to observe all that’s going on in our agencies and to see us grow, to realize our mission is being implemented and accomplished right before my very eyes.

“I am confident in the ability of our local Catholic Charities agencies to respond to the ongoing challenges our communities face. The staff, board of advisors, local agency councils and volunteers are the heart and soul behind Catholic Charities.

“An important foundation of our work is our faith. Who knows what’s going to happen, what needs are going to emerge, and how we are going to respond? If we are grounded in prayer and grounded in the principles of Catholic social teaching, somehow, we will find a way to do our best to respond to what emerges before us.” †

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