I stayed in my neck of the woods today and visited the Catholic Charities Brooklyn and Queens – ‘Changing Lives, Building Communities’
I took a short subway ride to downtown Brooklyn and joined the flurry of commuters buying coffee and rushing to work. The Catholic Charities offices are situated along a busy side street I even took a shortcut and I was five minutes early! It was like walking into the Merrion House (Local Council Buildings in Leeds) with a smiling security guard Hector (do we have one of those?). It’s a multiagency charity operating at a macro level serving Brooklyn and Queens. It keeps it’s community base through the different programs and offering ‘social services’ meant in the most generic sense.
The Charity employees 2000 staff and they operate on the Catholic Social Teaching (CST) Life and Dignity of the Human Person; Call to Family, Community and Participation; Option for the Poor and Vulnerable; and Solidarity.
This Catholic Charity has served the community for over 110 years, and is one of seven of the largest NGOs in New York who do not receive direct funding from Federal, State or the City. As this is such an established charity, I was keen to see how they utilised partner agencies in enabling parental engagement and found not only numerous creative ways they do this but also how they help shape policy by remaining close to the ground.
Because of the longevity of the service they have been able to join with specialised services who do get their funding through the government. They are proud to serve as a ‘gateway’ to Behavioural Health Services, Family Services, Early Childhood Services, Older Adult Services, Services for People with Developmental Disabilities, and Affordable housing.
I meet Nina Valmonte Director Parish & Community Outreach & Services and Sha-nae Anderson Director of Brooklyn Community Centre, both very passionate about their jobs. Nina says the charity is mission driven offering Parish and Community Outreach services supporting the family from ‘womb to tomb’ by offering consistent continual support. The charity originally started out as emergency assistance service which they still do, offering food parcels at their food pantry. They were also one of the seven services who provided emergency help for six different areas that were affected by Hurricane Sandy less than a year ago. She continues, but we don’t want to be seen as just an emergency service, we want to get to the bottom of issues; children are not just seen as in a vacuum, but within a context of a family life – what kind of needs to these parents have?
Referrals come from ACS, other agencies or are self referred. They work with families that find themselves with no where else to turn, they really listen and inform direction, look at any underlying issues, divert the cause and work on helping link to long term benefits. People assume we only serve Catholic but we don’t we serve everyone that comes to the door, we specifically don’t ask their religion. The beauty of being privately funded, is we are able to respond to the needs of the community as they are, not that is something that is dictated by a contract. There are no boundaries of who they help too, so un-documented immigrants are who may not be able to be assisted by other services can be supported by them. However, sometimes being part of such a big organisation you can lost in bureaucracy.
Taking all this in to account their infrastructure helps employ people to work at engaging at the local level, by employing four community project workers. Each one works within different areas, looking at who are the main players in the community, what resources that already exist they can utilise expertise in areas and bring an awareness of the service to the wider public. By staying close to the ground and being the size they are means they can bring larger societal issues to the attention of the state. For instance a couple of years ago, the government were going to cut the food stamps benefit. CC were able to get 2000 people to write on paper plates how this would directly affect them, by saying I won’t be able to pay my rent. It was very symbolic and did help stop the cuts.
Another way the charity has reached a wider audience in helping families is the The ‘Neediest Cases Campaign’, this fund is a partnership between The New York Times and Catholic Charities. It takes a of variety people who’s lives have been turned around through the help of CC and then a New York Times reporter publish articles profiling their stories.Thanks to the fund provided by the New York Times it raises both the awareness of current issues and profile of both establishments.
Nina signposts me to Alma downstairs in the Early Years Service section. I say goodbye and thank them both for their time and travel down to level 2. Alma, is a bit busy I’ve just caught her as she is waiting to hand a submission for grant to another worker (sorry i can’t remember your name – but you were really nice and rushed off with the big rolled up bounds of A4 paper) Alma says she’s applying for the Early Head Start grant and the grant writer takes all bits of paper Alma has collected and hurry off somewhere to transfer it into an application for funding.
Alma talks about being a ‘Head Start Mum’ and how she started as a volunteer and now working full time for them. She loves the Headstart guidelines. Her children are at college and high school and doing really well, so she’s very proud of that. She tells me of her Head Start programs that operate in the area under the CC are Montessori led, she reminds me this is a free service!
We walk and talk as she shows me the way to the Brooklyn Bridge Promenade we discuss the controversial anti teenage moms advertisement by the government in bus shelters at the moment. She said teenagers have been having children for centuries that’s the way we’re made, if we’re biologically made to have them then, why is there so much stigma … something to think about anyway..
No pictures to show as such just an office! lots of resources though and very interesting links via the internet http://www.catholiccharitiesny.org
Walked under the shaded canopies of the Ash and Oak trees lining the road to the promenade to take in the view this side of the river.