Friday, 04 January 2013 09:03
By Heather Welch
Catholic Charities, an agency of the Diocese of Wichita, this year will celebrate 70 years of service to those in need in the diocese. The agency has grown and changed in seven decades in response to the needs of families, particularly low-income families, in southeast Kansas.
Catholic Charities’ mission is to alleviate poverty and build strong families, and in 2012 the organization served nearly 15,000 clients in over 14 projects and programs designed to strengthen and stabilize families.
The most well-known programs are the St. Anthony Family Shelter; Harbor House, a domestic violence shelter for women and their children; and the Our Daily Bread Food Pantry. Catholic Charities also provides a continuum of services – from pregnancy to adoption, marriage and family counseling, and day services for seniors and adults with disabilities.
Catholic Charities was established in the diocese in 1943 by Bishop C.H. Winkelmann, as the Catholic Charities Bureau. In the early years, agency services focused primarily on the care of children – the placement of children for adoption, limited family counselling, and service to children and families in conjunction with the St. Vincent de Paul Society.
The early years
In 1951, the agency’s first board was formed, and in December of that year Catholic Charities Bureau was incorporated, receiving a state charter as a non-profit corporation.
In 1963, Catholic Charities began assisting refugees, primarily Vietnamese as they came to Kansas.
In 1975, the Downtown Center for Older Adults opened at 437 N. Topeka. Two years later, a second location opened at 1209 N. Indiana called the Claver Community Center.
Mount St. Mary’s Learning Lab at 3700 E. Lincoln in Wichita was founded in 1980 to help the Indochinese refugee population with English as a second language and with adjustment to the American culture. In 1985, the program diversified with the addition of migrant education, GED, and citizenship courses. Computers were added later for technology literacy.
In 1981, Catholic Charities adopted the Foster Grandparent Program, a federally-funded effort designed to match special needs children with low-income seniors.
St. Anthony Family Shelter opened in 1988. In 1992, Catholic Charities opened its second shelter, Harbor House, serving women and children who were victims of domestic violence. This shelter was opened at the request of the United Way of the Plains, which recognized an increase in the number of women and children needing a safe, confidential shelter and appropriate support services.
In 1996, the agency changed its name again, from Catholic Social Service, Inc., to Catholic Charities, Inc. to better align itself with its national governing organization.
Two years later, Adult Day Services moved from its long-time home at 1209 N. Indiana to a larger, more versatile facility at 5290 W. Central. The new location provided much needed space and allowed for the expansion of client services.
Fruits of seeds planted
Catholic Charities started its first official volunteer program in the summer of 1998. In less than a year, it was actively recruiting others to help fulfill the agency’s mission.
In December 1999, Catholic Charities added another program, Hispanic Social Services – now the diocesan Office of Hispanic Ministry – to serve the growing needs of the Hispanic community.
During 2003, Catholic Charities initiated a capital campaign to build two new shelters. The new Harbor House opened for clients in January 2006, and in August 2007, St. Anthony Family Shelter was complete.
On Nov. 19, 2008, Catholic Charities announced it was one of 11 organizations chosen to receive a $1 million grant for Start Strong: Building Healthy Teen Relationships, a new Robert Wood Johnson Foundation four-year initiative focused on preventing intimate partner violence.
The Marriage for Keeps program at Catholic Charities was successful in 2011 in receiving the only federal grant award in Kansas for a new phase of marriage and healthy relationship education and support.
In 2012, Catholic Charities partnered with The Lord’s Diner and Guadalupe Clinic in south Wichita to bring services to that area. Our Daily Bread Food Pantry now serves 3,000 clients a month. It is the only food pantry in the area offering a 100 percent client-choice model, allowing guests to shop for the foods their families enjoy.
A new partnership with the Wichita Children’s Home reaches out to teens living on the street who are at risk for sexual exploitation and domestic violence. Catholic Charities is also a partner with Big Brothers/Big Sisters in Wichita, a recipient of a two-year grant from the U.S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration, to provide mentoring and support to juvenile offenders re-entering the community.
A year of milestones
In addition to celebrating 70 years of service, this year Catholic Charities recognizes the 25th anniversary of St. Anthony Family Shelter, as well as the 20th anniversary of Harbor House and the Cruise Night event to benefit the shelter services at the agency. To learn more and offer support, visit CatholicCharitiesWichita.org.
Welch is media and marketing manager for Catholic Charities.