August 6, 2021

Stories of pivotal help mark St. Elizabeth Catholic Charities gala

Mark Casper, executive director of St. Elizabeth Catholic Charities in New Albany, center, smiles with his staff during the organization’s fundraising gala on June 24 in Louisville, Ky. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

Mark Casper, executive director of St. Elizabeth Catholic Charities in New Albany, center, smiles with his staff during the organization’s fundraising gala on June 24 in Louisville, Ky. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

By Lisa M. Whitaker (Special to The Criterion)

LOUISVILLE, Ky.—Caprice Lopez sat with her children as presenters shared their comments with the people who gathered within the large ballroom of the Galt House for St. Elizabeth Catholic Charities’ Giving Hope, Changing Lives Annual Gala.

The young mother both listened and tended to the needs of her two young boys as she waited for her time on the evening of June 24 to express her gratitude to all the St. Elizabeth supporters in attendance.

When she shared her story, Lopez, the gala’s main speaker, told the audience how St. Elizabeth’s staff and programs positively impacted her and her boys’ lives. At times, she became emotional, pausing her talk twice to stop her tears.

She shared that she was in need earlier in her life “when I was about four months pregnant [and] with a 1-year-old … trying my hardest to do everything right.

“I worked. I was in school. I was referred to St. Elizabeth by Choices for Women [Resource Center]. I explained my story to Tricia, and we moved in the next night.”

Lopez was referring to St. Elizabeth Catholic Charities’ current residential director Tricia Byrd who manages the cases of homeless and at-risk families and individuals.

“The first night in the house I probably cried more than I wanted to,” Lopez recalled. “Here I was living in a shelter, sharing a kitchen, having a curfew—it all seemed so unreal. I did not know that that night would completely change our lives and would be one of the best decisions I could make for my boys and myself.”

During her testimony, Lopez noted that the St. Elizabeth resources “that were available to us—the weekly counseling, group meetings, activities, even all the daily chores, all those moments in the house—shaped me into the woman and mother I am today.”

After three months in the shelter, Lopez found a job and was able to move into one of the organization’s affordable supportive housing units, where she lived for two years.

“One day, Trisha called and informed me of Habitat for Humanity. I joined the [Habitat for Humanity] program and shortly became a first-time homeowner.

“I’m in a great place with my career, the children are happy and healthy—we are all happy,” Lopez exclaimed with a big smile as she looked at the table where her two young boys were sitting with her friends. “My support system is just as strong and growing stronger.”

Meeting needs, healing wounds

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson was on hand for the event. He lauded the charitable organization, saying, “Catholic Charities is doing an incredible job here in New Albany. And we are so grateful. What a great way you witness to the joy of the Gospel.

“Pope Francis reminds us that we have to meet people where they are and heal their wounds, and then teach them. That’s what Catholic Charities does—meets people where they are and heals their wounds.”

To do this, St. Elizabeth Catholic Charities offers a variety of services, including a residential program for women and children needing emergency shelter, a family stability program, affordable supportive housing, a community distribution program, Adoption Bridges of Kentuckiana, and a supportive living program for those with special needs.

In fiscal year 2019-20, the organization’s expenditures on the programs cost nearly $1.6 million.

“The word ‘accompany’ means not leaving people where they are, but accompanying them and leading them to the Lord,” the archbishop said. “I think Catholic Charities does that in many, many ways. … You do such great work. Thank you for the great witness that you give.”

The crowd applauded in agreement.

A year of pivots

St. Elizabeth’s development director Dawn Bennett opened the evening by welcoming everyone, admitting that, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, “It’s been a long, long year!”

Mark Casper, executive director of St. Elizabeth Catholic Charities, noted his joy at seeing the unmasked, “smiling faces” of those present. In an interview with

The Criterion before the event, he said that the gala, which usually boasts 800 or more participants, had to be scaled back greatly this year due to the pandemic.

“Our silent auction we had virtually,” he said. “We normally give out a Spirit of Hope award every year and we are not doing that this year. We cut down a speaker or two, planned for registration to be less crowded, almost anything to provide for social distancing.”

He added, “As you can imagine, many of the services, we provide became more critical in a COVID year. Many of our clients were confused and scared. And many of the populations we serve and care for are at most severe risk during a pandemic. You simply cannot close your homeless shelter when it is most needed.”

When he looked toward the future, Casper was realistic.

“I could think that this coming year will be better or easier,” he said. “But we know that our three homeless shelter programs continue to see those struggling with addiction, and in this past year the increasing calls we took of those experiencing domestic violence was alarming. And finally, the amount of people facing upcoming evictions is simply stated, scary.”

At the same time, he believes the staff at St. Elizabeth’s will continue to rise to the challenge of helping people in need.

“Using creativity and passion, our staff and volunteers found a way to get the job done,” he said. “And I cannot be more proud of them.”

Lopez says she is living proof of how the staff’s creativity and passion helps to change lives.

When people ask her how she got to this point in her life, Lopez said, “I never fail to mention my story with St. Elizabeth. For all the times I express my appreciation, I have been told it was because I have worked so hard. To me, it’s because I was introduced to the [St. Elizabeth] resources. I was a part of a program that truly cared and that still cares.”

(Lisa Whitaker is a member of Holy Family Parish in New Albany.)

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