Catholic Charities launches #BeThere4Life

By Peggy Moraczewski
Correspondent

“The Corporal Works of Mercy are found in the teachings of Jesus and give us a model for how we should treat all others, as if they were Christ in disguise,” says the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops at www.usccb.org.
This spring, Catholic Charities of Central Texas (CCCTX) launched a new campaign entitled, #BeThere4Life. The campaign broadens the scope of defending human life from conception to death, to include helping every human being live with dignity. 
“The campaign represents that promise to the community that every single day we’re going to be there for every single person, whenever they need us. And that’s what mercy is,” said Christina Schneider, Marketing and Events Coordinator for CCCTX. 
Programs offered through CCCTX revolve around many of the Works of Mercy: feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked and give shelter to the homeless. Programs include counseling services, disaster response, financial stability, the Gabriel Project Life Center and Immigration Legal Services. Although the programs are diverse, they share a common goal: ending poverty, promoting respect for life and strengthening families. 
#BeThere4Life is meant to help the diocesan community better grasp the mission of CCCTX. In their Spring 2016 Newsletter, Sara Ramirez, executive director of CCCTX, stated, “...it is easy to see the beauty and potential of God’s gift in the face of a child ... we have a harder time seeing this light in the newly arrived immigrant, the man suffering from depression or the woman living out of her car.” 
For many people –– CCCTX served more than 14,000 people last year –– that dignity begins with the compassionate voice of intake specialist, Ellen Gutierrez. She listens, assesses needs and offers guidance to the proper channels for help. If CCCTX cannot help, she finds alternatives, such as community resources; every caller receives a response. 
“When someone comes in, it is important to give them the hope and the courage, that when they leave here, they can go on,” Gutierrez said. She visits with hundreds of people annually, many she never meets face to face.
One specific caller, fleeing domestic violence, said she only had the clothes on her back, a full tank of gas and a few dollars. Her cry, “Where do I go?” Gutierrez connected her to a domestic violence shelter where she received the necessary tools to move forward with life –– shelter, food, clothing and counseling. 
Later, this woman contacted Gutierrez to say she had gotten a job, liked the community and planned to make it her new home. Although their communication was only by phone, Gutierrez considers this contact a great success.
“I was just navigating to try to help someone in need. It takes a lot of courage to leave (a domestic violence situation),” Gutierrez said. The woman received counseling through the shelter where she was helped. CCCTX also offers counseling services, such as family counseling, grief counseling, bullying issues and continuing care for the mentally ill or post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 
Some calls require resolution through cooperation with community agencies, such as Adult Protective Services (APS) or Child Protective Services (CPS). Gutierrez received a phone call from an elderly person who had been left in her wheelchair for two days, not put to bed, had her diaper changed, been fed, etc. This particular situation required contacting APS, who sent a caseworker to visit the woman that same day. With the help of APS, she moved into a senior living facility and later told Gutierrez, “I am now safe and I am now taken care of, and I eat every day.”
Gutierrez loves helping this vulnerable population, but at the end of each work day, she turns over their suffering and hardship to God. 
“It’s God that directs. I also give thanks to God for all the blessings in my life,” she said. She is happy to help via the phone, but is equally prepared to welcome those who walk into the offices of CCCTX on a daily basis. She works to treat each person with dignity and to see them as individuals, as do her coworkers, which is critical especially after a disaster. 
When disaster strikes, CCCTX is a first responder, alongside the American Red Cross, to aid those who have lost their homes, personal possessions, or worst of all, loved ones. In the first few weeks following a disaster, the urgent needs of victims are met –– food, clothing and shelter. However, CCCTX also does long-term case management, assisting families throughout the recovery process with things such as rebuilding homes and providing counseling. The CCCTX Disaster Response program has been called upon extensively in the last five years to deal with the aftermath of multiple floods, fires, explosions, etc. Every disaster requires a unique response, and CCCTX is present to help.
“An individual’s ability to recover from a disaster is highly dependent upon the social support system they have around them ... it is very important for families to be surrounded by positive energy and solutions because it’s very easy to become paralyzed by disaster,” Ramirez said.
“That’s why we exist, to support those who don’t have the social support system around them ... We’ll be your social support system until we get you back to a sense of normalcy,” she added. Volunteers play a key role in disaster response efforts and all CCCTX programs.
Those interested in volunteering with CCCTX are invited to attend “CC-101,” where participants receive an overview of CCCTX, enjoy lunch and tour the facilities. CCCTX also hosts an annual golf tournament and two luncheons. For event registration or more information about the programs offered at CCCTX, visit www.ccctx.org.