Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta


New Name Graces Work Of Atlanta Catholic Charities

By SUZANNE HAUGH, Special Contributor | Published August 3, 2006

Recognizing the value of being more closely linked to its national office of Catholic Charities USA, North Georgia’s affiliate agency, known as Catholic Social Services, Inc., will continue to deliver its same services but under the new name of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Atlanta, Inc.

“On the national level, Catholic Charities USA is the umbrella organization with a very wonderful and rich history,” said Joseph Krygiel, Secretary for Catholic Charities. “When people see Catholic Charities there is a degree of trust that whatever they’re doing, they’re doing it well.”

The close affiliation with Catholic Charities USA became even more evident in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, as the Atlanta agency received $760,000, the majority of its hurricane relief funds, from the national office to help with relief efforts that aided over 6,300 families in the area. Catholic Charities continues to assist families now living in Atlanta following Katrina.

Working under the leadership of Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory, now Catholic Charities hopes to build upon the recognition of its new name.

“We take advantage of the name ‘Catholic’ with the big ‘C’ for name identity and reputation, but serve ‘catholics’ with the little ‘c,’ those of our brothers and sisters of any or no faith who are most in need,” Krygiel said.

The change in name is a welcome vote of confidence in the national office, according to John Keightley, executive vice president of Catholic Charities USA.

“I’m delighted that a member agency is adopting our name and sees the value of it,” said Keightley. “The name change allows Atlanta to draw a stronger connection with the network that has developed over the years. It’s a more obvious, visible connection. So if you move from one county to another, one state to another, it’s easier to make that connection.”

Coverage of the nonprofit organization’s efforts after 9/11, its efforts to help piece together lives after the devastation following Hurricane Katrina and most recently its crusade for immigration reform have further propelled Catholic Charities agencies into the national spotlight.

“I’d say the reputation of Catholic Charities USA is a direct result of the work done in Atlanta and in communities across the country. That work is recognized locally, which is why Catholic Charities USA has such a good reputation. That’s why we’re able to do the work and why we served 7.1 million people last year,” Keightley said. “We have a great reputation … because of the countless tens of thousands of professionals that work hour after hour for those who come to our door and ask for help.”

He attributes the strength of the Catholic Charities network to its formal establishment in 1910 when those from parishes and diocesan social services from across the country came as individuals to share their experiences. This affiliation continued to grow and develop through the years. Because of the size of Catholic Charities now “we have more leverage, more resources and more expertise,” Keightley said.

“Catholic Charities USA on a national level has a voice on issues of common interest that we see in communities. When we see common issues emerging concerning children, poverty and older adults, for instance, (they are) brought up to the national level.”

One recent example has been the development of a campaign aimed at eradicating child trafficking.

“When a local agency encounters a reality in its community, there is an opportunity to raise awareness on the national level. We can ask, ‘Is this isolated or a problem that’s all of ours?’ We can go on as a network, as a group, and say ‘hey, folks, this isn’t just a problem in developing nations but it’s in our communities.’”

By combining resources and brainstorming together everyone performs better.

“We also learn from each other and through our struggles,” Keightley added.

Carmen Quezada is the director of the Community Outreach Program for Catholic Charities in North Georgia, a program that addresses a variety of needs for those living near each of the six existing community centers. She understands the benefits of the relationship she has with the national office.

“We’re well known in the community for getting in and doing the work necessary to get the job done. Our mission is to serve the most in need and the most vulnerable. We do it every day.”

Quezada noted the limitations other nonprofits may face in serving clients.

“Our affiliation with the Catholic Church allows us to do more than other agencies. Other agencies may send clients to us saying, ‘We can’t do this, but Catholic Charities can.’”

She recalled the early response by the archdiocese to Hurricane Katrina evacuees, many of whom they continue to help today.

“Catholic Charities took on a lot of the burden. Most all of the other (local nonprofit) agencies have run out of funding, but we’ve had help from Catholic Charities USA. They have stood behind us funneling money to us to help people. Because of this great partnership, the great support from the main office, we knew that we could do it. It took everyone from all six (local Catholic Charities) programs, but we did it with the good support of (Catholic Charities USA). If anything, the experience solidified our relationship with (the national office). We are a part of them and they with us.”

The relationship goes beyond just financial support in dire times, Quezada said.

“If I have a question, or if there’s something I don’t know, I can call to see how other Catholic Charities (agencies) are doing it,” Quezada said. To help her better understand and confront anti-immigrant sentiments among some Georgians, she contacted Catholic Charities agencies in Arizona and Florida, plugging into that “super support.”

“We are all sharing information, developing best practices.”

The depth of the experience found within the Catholic Charities network is unique among nonprofit agencies, she added.

“Other (service) agencies don’t have this. It’s good to fall back on.”

Krygiel hopes to build upon the agency’s well-respected reputation among Atlanta’s nonprofit community.

“This reputation locally comes from our recent major involvement in the Hurricane Katrina evacuees assistance programs and also from our accreditation last year from the Council on Accreditation, which guarantees our agency’s professional delivery of client services,” he added.

Currently Catholic Charities of Atlanta, which was founded under the name of Catholic Social Services of Metropolitan Atlanta, Inc. in 1953, has hired an outside consultant to help its board of directors, staff and stakeholders in strategic planning.

“This planning will help Catholic Charities to sharpen both our vision and mission and also allow the organization to set achievable goals of growth for both programs and services for the next three to five years,” Krygiel explained. “We are looking to capitalize on our strengths and eliminate any weaknesses we have, to expand our influence in the Atlanta Archdiocese.”

Attracting highly competent and motivated members from the local Catholic business community to its board of directors is one of the agency’s current goals.

“To attract these people, we will need to make our services known and take our message of hope throughout North Georgia.”

On the national level, Keightley remains energized and excited by its mission and the potential to realize solutions to society’s ills.

“What we provide is a prism through which we can learn and hopefully find long-term solutions,” he said. “We, as a network, as an organization, see tremendous potential to provide solutions. … The challenge is to take our experience and ask ‘why is this happening?’ and ask others in the community ‘how can we allow this to happen, what can we do to alleviate the conditions that create poverty and domestic abuse, for instance?’ We can take our experience and work with people to increase their understanding of the needs and challenge them. It’s a different level. We can find long-term solutions with the help today from those at the county, city and state (levels).”

Krygiel reiterated the local agency’s mission, now in its 53rd year, as being “to help build up our Atlanta neighborhoods by bringing together people of good will to fight poverty, to strengthen families and to build better communities.”

“Our services and programs not only help people in their most difficult times but also empower them to take charge of their lives and help them determine their futures. In short, we provide help and create hope.”

Delivering the services needed to fulfill the agency’s mission requires trained staff willing to do the work. Quezada recalled how staff members often discuss their jobs as a continuation of Christ’s ministry.

“Jesus said, ‘When did you give food to the hungry or give a place to stay for the homeless? When you do that, when you help all the people in need, you help (me).’”

She described the staff as being very passionate in what they do.

“They have a strong need to help people come together. They do it because it’s in them to do it. God is inside telling them to do it. It’s not easy what the staff sees day in and day out. They need God to get them through it.”

Some of the stories are very disheartening, particularly anti-immigrant sentiments, she said. “It’s hard, and it could be easy to give up. But there’s something on the inside telling (staff members) that this is their calling, and they need to help these people.”

While the work is often difficult, many days are wonderful, she added, “especially when we see the church come together.”

She told of a situation in which a parish raised $27,000 to support two injured, undocumented workers and their families.

“Together God’s people said they needed to help them. We’re trying to organize things to help also, but it wouldn’t be possible without God’s people to help. We see miracles on a daily basis.”

Vatican II further enunciated the servant model of the church and its role in society, Krygiel said. The laity plays an important part.

“People are attracted to ways in which they can help others. …They’re doing that through us.”

Catholic Charities continues to serve the most needy and vulnerable regardless of race or creed.

“We don’t serve people because they’re Catholic. We serve them because we’re Catholic. … The Catholic Church teaches that we are our brother’s keeper. Our faith life is important,” he said.

Like other Catholic institutions, such as Catholic schools, Catholic Charities is a “purveyor of Catholic values,” Keightley explained.

“The work of Catholic Charities (takes in) the institution of the church and the community in which the church exists. We reach out to people who are of the faith and who have no faith. We present the church’s face to the broader community as we live out Catholic social teaching. The beauty and glory of our work is that we can become that bridge—we straddle both worlds. We convey Catholic teaching and the church contributes to furthering lives.”