By PRISCILLA GREEAR, Special To The Bulletin | Published November 10, 2011
At St. Brendan the Navigator Church in Cumming, Hispanic adults learn the English language and computer skills through Tell Me More online language courses that will help them to integrate better into the community and to communicate more easily with their children’s schools.
At Ignatius House Jesuit retreat center, Catholic Earth Day participants reflect in its light-filled chapel amidst the wooded grounds on the Chattahoochee River on how to become better stewards of natural resources and how those practices impact the poor.
Over at the Be Someone training center in Stone Mountain, at-risk youth learn how to play chess and its lessons on how to think critically and make good life moves.
This year the CCHD initiative of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is helping to fund these projects and other parish and community anti-poverty advocacy and education projects in the Archdiocese of Atlanta. CCHD stands for the Catholic Campaign for Human Development.
Before Catholics reflect on their blessings this Thanksgiving they will be asked to support CCHD anew with the annual collection in most parishes the weekend of Nov. 19-20. This year’s theme is “Fight Poverty in America. Defend Human Dignity.”
Kathy Powell helped organize Catholic Earth Day events held with the support of small CCHD grants in 2010 and 2011.
She said, “The great thing about the CCHD grant is it has really shaped the Earth Day event to be much more than ‘you should recycle or plant some trees.’ Instead it’s really focused on Catholic social teaching tenets, including care for creation and the idea that how we use our natural resources affects the least of our brothers and sisters.”
The focus makes the event more instructional and gives participants insight into how their faith impacts daily life decisions.
Being concerned about the created world is “not just something nice to do; it’s something our faith teaches us to do,” she said.
Powell said CCHD “has been a little controversial, but it’s a great program at its heart.”
“It’s needed because so often Catholics in the parishes tend to put less emphasis on social justice. … It’s easy to do service, but it’s easy to miss the idea of the education behind it and what our faith teaches and what it means to be the hands and feet of Christ,” she said.
Last fiscal year the Atlanta Archdiocese collected $155,243 to support CCHD. Under the collection guidelines, 25 percent of that amount is returned to the archdiocese where parishes and community groups can apply for a portion of it to fund local projects. Seventy-five percent of the collection is distributed in grants awarded at the national level.
Kat Doyle, director of archdiocesan Social Justice Ministries, emphasized that funding for local projects is awarded to Catholic parishes and to other nonprofit organizations that meet strict requirements in terms of CCHD guidelines and work in accordance with Catholic teaching. They will revoke funding if they find any conflicting action or association by a grant recipient, Doyle said.
“We want to encourage people to be generous because it makes a difference right here in our communities,” she said.
The projects must be in line with Catholic social teaching and, in contrast to programs that accomplish direct service or provide charity to those in need, these projects are attempting to “break the cycle of poverty,” Doyle said. The projects also must incorporate the people being assisted in the decision-making process so people “have a voice in decisions made regarding their lives,” she said.
Local grants are divided into two sections, parish grants and community grants.
In the next grant cycle, the amount that can be awarded to parish and community projects will be increased, Doyle said. Parishes will be able to apply for a total of $5,000, including up to $1,000 to start or continue a JustFaith program and up to $4,000 for an additional social justice project. Community nonprofits will be able to apply for a grant of up to $10,000.
Applications will be posted on the archdiocesan website, www.archatl.com, on Jan. 9, 2012.
“In today’s economic climate we find it takes a little more than we have been giving,” Doyle said. “We want to make sure our Catholic churches … have access to funds to support Catholic parish social justice projects.”
The JustFaith program of justice education and advocacy “is an easy way to get a parish started in social justice ministry,” she said.
Doyle believes that the St. Brendan’s language project can have a lasting impact in helping poorer immigrants to learn English and computers and enabling them to communicate better with their children’s schools, which post a lot of important school information online. Anglos also participate in the program and native English and native Spanish practice conversation together in each language.
“It creates community so English and Spanish speakers are working together and experiencing fellowship. And it gives Spanish speakers an opportunity to break the cycle of poverty in participating in their child’s education,” she said.
The CCHD grant of $4,000 enabled Be Someone, Inc. to enroll 100 more children at its free eight-week chess camp. The program teaches youth from struggling families to think critically, learn from mistakes, work hard and develop leadership skills, said founder Orrin Hudson, who himself found direction as a delinquent youth through chess.
“Chess is a great tool by teaching direct problem-solving skills. We are teaching children how to look to solve problems using your head,” he said. “We want to help kids to level the playing field.”
The camps also challenge kids to set life achievement goals.
“A lot of parents tell me taking a class it’s like a new blank check on life. We’re teaching children how to dream,” he continued.
Doyle relishes the opportunity to raise support for such CCHD justice initiatives in her new job as archdiocesan social justice ministry director, which she started in August after previously serving for 10 years as director of parish life and outreach at St. Brendan’s.
“We’re told at the end of every Mass to go out and love and serve the Lord, and this job allows me to do it every single day. My passion lies in helping people understand what Catholic social teaching is, helping them live Catholic social teaching and social justice,” she said. “It really is at the heart of who we are as Catholics. If we are really supposed to emulate Christ, then Jesus is the perfect example of what it is to live and serve one another.”
The national poverty rate continues to climb, leaders of the national CCHD campaign pointed out.
“The number of people living in poverty in our nation shot up for the fourth year in a row from 43.6 to 46.2 million in 2010—the largest number in the 52 years for which poverty estimates have been published,” said Bishop Jaime Soto, chairman of the U. S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ CCHD Subcommittee. “With its focus on long-term solutions, CCHD’s approach is an essential complement to the vital work of our Catholic schools, Catholic Charities agencies, pro-life activities and other direct assistance programs to those in need.”