Catholic Charities equips others to better their own lives

January 24, 2016

HOUSTON — The mission of Catholic Charities for over 70 years has been about providing God’s love and forgiveness to people of all ages and walks of life. To help people in need to create better lives for themselves and their families.

This mission is the epitome of Pope Francis’s message to Christians in this Year of Mercy. Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, which is funded by the Diocesan Services Fund (DSF), helps people in southeast Texas by providing caring, compassionate services and advocating for social justice in collaboration with parishes and communities. Its staff and volunteers are living examples of those who day in and day out provide for basic needs, counseling, housing initiatives, children and family services, and more, all designed to promote self-sufficiency.

“We are immensely grateful for the support we receive from the Archdiocese, parishes and parish families through DSF,” said Cynthia N. Colbert, president and CEO of Catholic Charities. “Your support often means a child doesn’t have to go to bed hungry, or a senior doesn’t have to skip her medication. It also often means that a baby is born healthy, that her mom and dad can finish school and get sustainable jobs so they can provide a safe and secure home for their family. This is how we break the cycle of poverty.”

According to Natalie Wood, vice president of Strengthening and Senior Services at Catholic Charities, one of the ministry’s main differentiators is the offering of support and opportunities that empower people and communities to grow and thrive. They aim to go to the root of the problem to discover the full spectrum of programs and services that the person or family needs instead of just putting on a temporary Band-Aid that only fixes what appears on the surface. 

“If I go to the doctor for a headache and I am told to take an aspirin, if the doctor doesn’t look further into my condition, he may not discover that the cause of the headache actually is from high blood pressure, which means the headache will most likely come back again, maybe even worse,” said Wood. “When we start talking to clients, we ask many questions to not only fix the problem at hand, but most importantly, to discover what else they need to better themselves and become more self-reliant for the long term.”

Wood said many people have the impression that those who are in need are lazy or do not want to better themselves. She believes in most cases, they just do not know there is a better way of life and that such help is available at organization like Catholic Charities.

“Many are ashamed to ask for help because this situation is the way it’s always been in their family and they do not know that help exists,” said Wood. “Our case workers look for a comprehensive plan that will better the lives of these families and move them to self-sufficiency, which doesn’t happen overnight. We reevaluate each individual or family plan every 90 days to see how far they have progressed, and to see if there are any other services required.”

Wood said that spirituality is an important part of the assessment since it is an inherent part of the way God designed the human race. Catholic Charities believes that God designed all people to be treated justly and fairly, not ignored and unfairly allowed to live in poverty. While faith-based, the ministry serves all people that come through its doors regardless of religion and is careful not to proselytize. 

“Just as important as adequate clothing, shelter and healthy food, we believe strongly all people need God as much as we need air,” said Wood. “As Catholic Christians inspired by the Gospel, I really think it’s important to remember that the work we do is God’s work, holy work, and when we come into contact with another human being, God loves them very deeply and we need to do the best we can to help this family. God expects no less than our best, so it’s absolutely fundamental that we give generously in all that we do for those who come seeking assistance.”

In 2014, Catholic Charities served over 87,000 people in need. Four areas of service under Wood’s direction include Basic Needs, Lotus, Counseling programs, and Senior Services.

Basic Needs: On a typical day in Southeast Texas, 66,200 people are hungry and can’t afford to buy food. Of that number, 5,000 are children. Many more households — one in five — face food insecurity — which means they live with the threat of being hungry or of not having consistent access to fresh produce, meat and other nutritious items. The statistics are worse for children; one in four has to worry about food. Catholic Charities Guadalupe Center and its Pan de Vida (Bread of Life) Food Pantry are absolutely essential to meeting the needs of the people in this region. A client’s visit to the center for groceries or clothes offers an introduction to the work of Catholic Charities — and the compassionate hearts of the staff and volunteers. If the case managers see that people have other needs, they connect them to various Catholic Charities programs or to relevant resources in the community.

Lotus Project: According to statistics, women are the fastest growing group within the U.S. veteran population. Thousands live in the Houston area and are faced with raising children on their own and dealing with the physical and psychological after-effects of serving in the military. These physical and mental health issues, without intervention, can put women veterans at greater risk of becoming homeless. Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, through The Lotus Project and the Women Veterans Assistance Program, works hard to ensure these women have a stable, safe place to live, enough to eat and assistance going back to school and getting jobs. The Lotus Project offers the only permanent housing option for disabled women veterans in this region, and keeping up with the growing needs of this important population is challenging.

Counseling Services: Poverty, language barriers, lack of transportation, cost, fear and social stigma are serious roadblocks for many people in the region who need mental health services. Recognizing this tremendous need, Catholic Charities offers — as part of its network of services – a high quality Counseling Services Program that specifically serves schoolchildren and their parents; pregnant women who want to keep their babies; individuals and families referred by the Catholic Charities Cabrini Legal Services program; children served through Catholic Charities’ Children’s Services programs; and crime victims who need help processing the crimes against them and explaining the impact of those crimes on their lives.

Senior Services: In 2013, of the 45 million people in the U.S. who were 65 or older, more than four million of them lived in poverty. More than 400,000 individuals over age 65 live in Harris County, and roughly one in five of them live in poverty, according to the U.S. Census. Since seniors often live on a fixed income, many have to prioritize what they pay for, choosing among medications, food or rent, and without guidance, may not realize their true financial plight until they are evicted from their homes. 

Recognizing the tremendous need to provide care for vulnerable seniors in the Galveston-Houston region, Catholic Charities offers the Senior Services Program, a comprehensive case management service for individuals age 60 or older who live alone, spend their days alone or receive little support from family members. The services are tailored for each individual, but generally focus on ensuring access to community resources for medical issues, mental health needs, substance abuse services, benefits, financial assistance, home repairs and modifications, and spiritual and social needs. For more about Catholic Charities, visit