Empowering the vulnerable means offering them a hand

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School’s about to begin and like many parents out there, I’ve been gearing up my kids for the new year. As I’ve registered them for classes and begun purchasing the school items they need, I keep thinking about the families who struggle to check off their back-to-school lists because of a lack of resources and support. At Catholic Social Services, we serve so many Anchorage families in need. We see them and hear their stories daily.

Not long ago I heard the story of a mom who came to Clare House with her young daughter. This woman talked to our case manager, Sherilee. Sherilee helps families navigate their journeys from meeting them in Clare House, to settling in their own homes with their children and then supporting them as they stabilize in housing. Of course, they have to take lots of steps — from building resumes and securing jobs to furnishing their homes, finding childcare and over time building savings and their own personal safety net. This woman is now permanently housed and working at a job where she helps others facing similar situations to her own.

Such a process would intimidate any of us, but Sherilee encourages and supports our clients as they go. Her vast knowledge and her warm smile comfort the women she works with and their children — just like so many of our staff at Clare House and throughout Catholic Social Services. We provide evidence-based services with compassion, kindness, dignity and respect.

What struck me about many of these stories are children. I once gave a talk at the University of Alaska to social work students. Afterwards a student came up and thanked me. She had grown up at Clare House and that had inspired her to study social work. She was clearly a strong and motivated woman, and I encouraged her to come find me after she graduated because Catholic Social Services would like to give her a job. This young woman, unfortunately, is the exception and not the rule. The trauma of experiencing homelessness in childhood is a heavy burden to carry — it is an adverse childhood experience that often leads to poor long-term health and to second- and third-generation poverty. At Catholic Social Services, we want to stop that cycle of poverty. Stopping that cycle takes each of us asking for help and listening to others. It requires us to assure that basic needs, like housing and food, are met for all. It means providing services so families can focus on building their future instead of parents worrying about finding a safe place for their kids to sleep at night.

For years, Catholic social teachings have taught us to empower those around us. One of the best reminders comes from 1 John 3:2. It says, “Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we shall be has not yet been revealed. We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” Empowering and respecting people means offering a hand to our neighbor in need, with love and without judgment.

Every day, Sherilee and other Catholic Social Services staff, moms at Clare House, and each of you who support this work, shine that love and empower our community. Together we can stop the cycle and empower children and young people toward a future they create, like the young woman I met who described her childhood growing up at Clare house. Let’s make this the best school year yet for her and for all the children in extreme poverty in Anchorage.

The writer is executive director of Catholic Social Services in Alaska. For more on CSS, call 222-7300 or visit cssalaska.org.


'Empowering the vulnerable means offering them a hand'
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