Thursday, November 19, 2009

Catholic Campaign (CCHD) grant gives hope to former Twin Cities addict

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There has abeen a lot of debate in the past month about the US Council of Catholic Bishops' Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) and how they spend their money. In the past perhaps they haven't been forthright in revealing that some grantees have been engaged in activities opposed to Catholic teachings. The bishops under Cardinal George of Chicago have been actively reining the CCHD and forbidding donations to many groups that have been funded in the past. ACORN is one major group that falls into this category. Here is a story from the Catholic Spirit on a Twin Cities group that will be funded this year.

Elsa Cardenas had lost everything: her business, her home, her kids. Eventually the Minneapolis woman’s crack cocaine addiction robbed her of the only thing she had left: her hope.

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Thanks to help from St. Stephen’s Human Services in Minneapolis, Elsa Cardenas was able to break free of a crack cocaine addiction and turn her life around. St. Stephen’s receives grant money from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, the U.S. bishops’ anti-poverty program that funds community development programs around the country. - Photo by Dave Hrbacek / The Catholic Spirit
Cold and living on the streets, Cardenas had had enough. She began treatment for her addiction and moved into a transitional housing unit across the street from St. Stephen’s Human Services, a Minneapolis organization that advocates for homeless people.

But with three felonies on her record, Cardenas didn’t think any employer would hire her. She felt stuck. “I thought to myself, I’m getting sober, but what am I going to do now? I can’t get a job,” she said.

One day a staff member from St. Stephen’s invited Cardenas to share her story with participants of the organization’s poverty awareness program “A Day in the Life,” funded in part by a grant from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development.

“They had this confidence in me,” Cardenas said about St. Stephen’s. “They just made me feel good about myself even though I’d been through what I’d gone through, and they really encouraged me.”

After volunteering at St. Stephen’s for several months, the organization gave Cardenas a referral that helped her land a job at Spectrum Community Mental Health in Minneapolis.

Now 40, Cardenas is sober. She has her own apartment and steady employment. “I’ve come a long way,” she said. “My whole state of mind has just totally changed, what I think and feel.”

Cardenas credits St. Stephen’s for helping her get her life back on track.

“I see them and the way they try to help others, I see how they really care, and it just inspires me to want to be the same way,” she said. “What they do for people that are homeless is they inspire them to want more for themselves and they give them that hope that, hey, you can go out and do this.”


Making an impact

St. Stephen’s and several other local organizations have been chosen to receive grants this year from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, the U.S. bishops’ domestic anti-poverty program that funds community development programs around the country, and its local counterpart program, the Christian Sharing Fund.

Cathy Heying, advocacy coordinator at St. Stephen’s, said the $15,000 CCHD grant will make a “huge impact” on the organization’s budget.

“All of the money, every dollar we get, we use carefully and thoughtfully,” Heying said. “We are being good stewards with people’s money and working really hard to try to live out the tenets of Catholic social teaching by empowering people and honoring the dignity of every person.”

St. Stephen’s Human Services was founded by St. Stephen’s parish but became a separate entity in 2001. Grounded in the belief that the fight to end homelessness must be fought side-by-side with the people who experience it, the organization’s Human Rights Program educates, organizes and advocates around the basic human right to housing.

Permanent solutions

Collections for both CCHD and CSF will take place in most parishes Nov. 21 and 22, the weekend before Thanksgiving. “Families are struggling. Faith is calling” is the theme for this year’s collection.

The campaign’s purpose, according to local CCHD/CSF coordinator Cheryl Peterson, “is to support low-income and marginalized people who are working for their own systemic change.

“The whole point of CCHD is to identify and fund permanent solutions to poverty in the United States,” Peterson said.

She explained that CCHD complements other church programs that provide direct assistance to the poor.

“A response of charity is good. We should give to food shelves, we should provide coats and blankets to people,” Peterson said. “However, that doesn’t change the situation of poverty for anybody. It just helps them deal with their poverty. There really is a biblical call to change the situation.”

In order to receive CCHD/CSF funding, projects have to be initiated or led by poor or low-income people, Peterson said.

Local CCHD/CSF grant recipients for 2009-2010 include: PEACE Foundation, African Chamber of Commerce, Project Navigate, All Parks Alliance for Change, Mental Health Con­sumer/Survivor Network of Minnesota, Minnesota Immigrant Free­dom Network, Somali Action Alliance and Minnesota Coalition for the Homeless. (For information about these organizations, go to www.TheCatholicSpirit.com.)

Since 1970, CCHD has provided close to $300 million in grants to community and economic development projects in the United States.

Last year, CCHD awarded more than $7.7 million to 250 grantees throughout the U.S.; 776 Catholic parishes, 18 Catholic Charities agencies and 51 religious communities were involved in CCHD-funded groups.

“CCHD relies on the annual parish collection to fund anti-poverty programs in communities across the country and here at home,” Archbishop John Nienstedt said in a CCHD promotional brochure.

“This is the church’s way of proclaiming that poverty is not simply a result of bad individual choices,” the archbishop added. “Rather, there are deeply embedded social systems that can lock people into a situation of poverty that even the greatest amount of individual effort cannot overcome.

“By joining with others, we can break the cycle of poverty, one community at a time,” he said.

Seventy-five percent of the money collected within the archdiocese goes to organizations selected by the national CCHD office, including several Twin Cities organizations. The other 25 percent goes to local organizations chosen by the archdiocesan CCHD advisory board with Archbishop Nienstedt’s approval.

“Because the Twin Cities has organizations that are doing the kind of social change work that CCHD funds, . . . most of the money that is collected in this diocese really comes back to this diocese, whether it’s in the form of a CCHD national grant or whether it’s in the form of a local grant,” Peterson said.

Empowering the poor

“This year, our call as Catholics to bring glad tidings to the poor, . . . to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free is more important than ever before,” said Bishop Roger Morin of Biloxi, Miss., who is chairman of the U.S. bishops’ CCHD subcommittee.

He made the remark in a letter to parishes asking Catholics to be as generous as possible during the annual collection that is the primary source of support for the U.S. bishops’ domestic anti-poverty program.

“The mission of CCHD is crucial in 2009 — to uplift and embolden all who are one layoff or one medical scare away from the poverty line — and all who are already there,” the bishop said.

According to U.S. census figures, an estimated 40 million people currently live in poverty — almost 3 million more than last year. The unemployment rate reached a 26-year high of 10.2 percent in October.

For nearly 40 years, CCHD has funded community groups that create affordable housing, obtain fair wages and provide job training, as well as organize projects led by low-income individuals to help people and resolve problems in their communities.

All grant applications are carefully reviewed and funds are provided only to projects “with objectives and actions that are fully in accord with the moral teachings of the Catholic Church, according to the CCHD.” Partisan activity is prohibited.

Organizations are not required to be Catholic to receive CCHD/CSF funding.

“We don’t fund these organizations because they’re Catholic,” Peterson said. “We fund them because we’re Catholic.

“When you look at the principles of Catholic social teaching, we’re called as Catholics to respond to the needs of the marginalized.”

For more information about the Catholic Campaign for Human Development or the Christian Sharing Fund, go to www.osjspm.org/cchd or call (651) 291-4477.

Here is a pdf statement from the USCCB on the CCHD issue.
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