Catholic Charities: Promoting human dignity within charitable programs

By Sara Ramirez
Catholic Charities of Central Texas

Clarissa was matter of fact when she began her story. Like so many others devastated by the flooding across Texas over Memorial Day weekend, she lost nearly everything. As she told her story, one she had shared dozens of times to friends, family and service providers, I was struck by her resilience and strength.
We completed the simple intake process and I shared how Catholic Charities could help with her family’s immediate needs – food, hygiene supplies, water, a gift card to buy items we couldn’t provide, etc. As she reached out to take the gift card, her hand stopped short and I could see tears brimming in her eyes. Handing her a tissue, I asked if there was anything else I could do to help her.
She quickly wiped away her tears and whispered, “It’s just … normally, I’m on the other side. Normally, I’m the one giving help. This isn’t who I am.”
The resilience that I saw was at a breaking point. Clarissa lost every material belonging but the clothing she was wearing that day. What hurt the most was the loss of the control she normally felt. She lost her identity as a servant leader, and she lost her dignity as a person.
At Catholic Charities, our mission is to replace those feelings of loss with hope.
Belief in the inherent dignity of the human person is the foundation of all Catholic social teaching.
How do we nurture the dignity of the individual, while doing all we can to help them? For Catholic Charities, the answer is simple: we provide high quality services that balance advocacy and accountability. When we assure these three elements in each aspect of our service delivery, we promote the dignity of our client.
Quality –– Catholic Charities operates with a non-profit heart and a business mindset. This means that we exemplify service, compassion and love, and we use industry best practices and evaluation to ensure the ideal result for our clients. We reject the idea that because a service is low cost or free that it can be substandard in any way.
Advocacy –– Individuals and families living in poverty do not have the necessary resources to break free of that cycle. This lack of resources is often financial; however, many families do not have a support network or the education to navigate the system. They desperately need someone in their corner. At times, our case managers advocate for clients by directly negotiating with a landlord or directly representing a client in court. A Catholic Charities advocate also coaches the client to stand and communicate for themselves and gives the client the tools to be successful in those interactions.
Accountability – The families we serve at Catholic Charities are the working poor, often working multiple minimum-wage jobs to make ends meet. It is when crisis happens, such as a workplace injury, unplanned pregnancy, or downsizing, that they reach out for help. Regardless of the reason a family comes to Catholic Charities, they will not just receive a hand-out. We give a hand-up. This means making a meaningful investment in our clients –– giving them not just help, but an opportunity to regain the control they have lost. Each client is asked to make their own investment into their success. At Catholic Charities, we focus on helping clients to be their own champions, helping them build the confidence and knowledge that will allow them to be independent and self-sustaining.
For example, a client might invest their time in attending a budgeting class while they receive financial assistance. A client might create a work plan with their case manager which requires specific steps that the client must complete. Some clients might even make a financial investment. The fee for service model used in some of our programs creates a personal investment for the client in the process, which can lead to more successful outcomes especially in areas such as counseling and legal services. It also allows the client to contribute to the agency, making their participation not strictly charity.
For Clarissa, the path to recovery from the disaster will be a long one. It can take years for a family to fully recover from the financial loss and the emotional strain of a natural disaster; however, she is not alone. Catholic Charities will be by her side throughout the process, helping her to recover what she has lost, including her self-sufficiency and dignity. 
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