Catholic Charities marks centennial



Catholic Charities is marking its 100th year of helping people in need from all faiths.

In the Bible, passages relay how Jesus told his followers that performing acts of charity to feed, clothe and shelter the “least of my brothers” were, in effect, doing it for him.

Catholic churches have put that Scripture into practice for centuries. In 1910, a network of agencies with charitable ministries formed the National Conference of Catholic Charities. In 1986, it became Catholic Charities. The Catholic Charities movement is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year.

In the Diocese of Youngstown, Brian Corbin is the executive director of Catholic Charities Services and Health Affairs. He said Catholic Charities fulfills the mission set forth by its forerunner — that each diocese be actively engaged in social outreach, be professional and serve as an attorney for the poor. He noted Catholic universities answered the call by developing social-work programs to educate and train social workers. “By being an attorney for the poor ... it’s working with ... not for. The people are part of the process and keep their dignity,” he said.

Corbin said Catholic Charities in the Youngstown Diocese, which was established in 1943 out of the Diocese of Cleveland, is a corporation headed by Bishop George V. Murry as chairman. “As a civil corporation, Catholic Charities is able to interact with the world,” Corbin said.

Catholic Charities’ three-fold mission, Corbin said, is to serve people of all faiths, races and ages who are in need; to be an advocate for justice in social structures by adding its voice to public policy; and to convene others of good will to work together.

Catholic Charities operates in the six counties of the diocese — Ashtabula, Columbiana, Mahoning, Portage, Stark and Trumbull. There are four social-service agencies, Catholic Charities Regional Agency covering Columbiana, Mahoning and Columbiana Counties and Catholic Charities of Ashtabula, Portage and Stark counties, respectively, and two housing programs, Catholic Charities Housing Opportunities and Carias Communities, that offer a range of aid.

Nancy Voitus is executive director of Catholic Charities Regional Agency, 2401 Belmont Ave., which serves Columbiana, Mahoning and Trumbull counties. Voitus, who has been at the regional agency for a decade, has an extensive background in social work, having worked 17 years in community outreach and social work at St. Elizabeth Health Center.

Voitus said the 44 employees, social workers and support staff at the regional agency are seeing “more complicated cases.” She noted that the difficult economy has turned some former donors into clients. “There are more ‘new people’ seeking help,” she said, adding that some are people who once could donate something to the cause but now need help themselves. “Some have jobs but just don’t make enough to make ends meet.”

Some people in this situation, she continued, are those who were laid off and took a lesser-paying job and those that experienced an expensive medical crisis.

She said sometimes people will call or send a note that “they’re back on their feet” and thank the agency for helping them. The agency helps anyone in need, not just Catholics.

To provide help for those in need takes funding, which comes from a variety of sources including the annual bishops’ appeal, United Way, federal and state grants, contracts, fundraisers and donations. The 2009 budget was about $2.5 million.

Voitus said the regional agency gets between 80 to 100 calls daily from people seeking help. She pointed out, though, that Catholic Charities doesn’t operate in a vacuum — it collaborates and works with other social service agencies to help people in need.

Those who apply for aid go through a process during which Catholic Charities verifies income and determines eligibility. She noted payments for utility shutoffs and rent are done through a voucher system and go directly to the source, not the client.

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