Christus Foundation grant provides counseling services to students at inner-city schools

December 24, 2013

HOUSTON — To strengthen families and students in 10 inner-city Catholic schools, free counseling services will be available through Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston thanks to a generous grant of $175,000 for two years, totaling $350,000, from the CHRISTUS Foundation for Healthcare.

With support from the grant, Catholic Charities has placed two full-time, bilingual, licensed counselors to rotate among 10 schools serving children from pre-kindergarten through eighth grade as this school year began in September 2013. 

Daniel Cardinal DiNardo said, “The generosity of the CHRISTUS Foundation allows the Archdiocesan inner-city schools to enhance its services, ensuring all our students and their families have the resources and support needed to succeed.”

Gregory Gomez, Cardinal’s Special Liaison to the Inner City Schools of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, said it is invaluable to have counselors available for students who deal with so much in their daily life.

“It’s hard to lose weight during Thanksgiving week. It’s tough to do algebra problems at a rock concert. It’s difficult to play chess at a rowdy Texans tailgate. That’s because we all have a finite limit to the number of cognitive operations our brains can do at one particular time. Once that limit is reached, our ability to focus is dramatically affected,” Gomez said. 

“Now, consider students, especially those in poverty, that our Catholic schools serve. The mental taxes are steep for children who have to deal with food scarcity, neighborhood violence, having shelter, and exposure to drugs. An expert teacher knows that a lack of student focus is often just a manifestation of a student reaching their cognitive limit. As the stressors of poverty become too much for a student to bear, a safety net that extends beyond a compassionate teacher is needed. That’s why the Christus Health counselors are so critical for our schools — they are a piece of that safety net — helping to catch our most vulnerable students. Through this partnership we all fittingly confirm that mental health is part and parcel of true academic success,” Gomez said. 

Working with Sister Charles Anne Solomon, associate superintendent of schools for the Archdiocese, the program hopes to seek additional funding to allow four full-time counselors to serve 15 schools by the start of the 2015-2016 school year.

“Delivering these services directly within the schools, at no cost to families, and in either Spanish or English, will eliminate a number of barriers that might otherwise prevent these children and their caregivers from accessing these services on their own,” Ernesto Lopez, director for Catholic Charities Counseling Services, said. “We have already been met with very positive and enthusiastic responses from a number of parents, teachers, principals and pastors.”

The Catholic schools involved in the program are St. Mary of the Purification, Queen of Peace, Our Lady of Fatima, Resurrection, St. Augustine, Holy Ghost, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, St. Pius V, Assumption and St. Peter the Apostle.

Sister Charles Anne said, “The whole issue of mental health is very important for our schools. We want to equip our children with life skills to help them have a successful future.”

The issues to be addressed include bullying, social isolation, depression, building self-esteem and interpersonal relationships. Each school will have a counselor present at least one day per week, with the counseling team providing individual counseling, group counseling and presentations to students and families.

Supplemental counseling work will include educational services for teachers, principals and school staff. All services will be made available free of charge, addressing the needs of low-income families who lack adequate medical insurance coverage.