Catholic Charities Programs Bolster Local Community

When Catholic Charities of North Louisiana opened its doors in late summer of 2010, it was with one program and one employee.  Executive Director, Jean Dresley, was charged with getting the agency up and running. By January we moved to the former St. Catherine of Siena Church building. In just four years, we have grown to six programs of assistance and nine employees. We have an outstanding group of volunteers every week as well who help us accomplish our goals of making a difference in the lives of our clients.

Along with the help of many, Jean began reaching out to the most vulnerable in our community. That first program, Emergency Assistance, provides financial assistance for things like rent and utilities. We also have a small food pantry to help tide people over until they can visit a larger facility. An important element of every program at Catholic Charities is education. We require any client seeking financial assistance to attend our financial education course, The Money School, with a goal of helping them learn to better manage their money and become more independent.  Often this information is life-changing for them and their families.

Our Immigration Integration program assists families in overcoming the legal and social barriers that hinder their full participation in the community. With this program, we have several goals:  to raise awareness in our community about immigrant families and help them obtain needed legal papers, improve their living conditions and promote the welfare of their children. This program focuses on issues directly impacting quality of life, like housing and education and the family’s acceptance into our community. We are the only Board of Immigration Appeals accredited agency in North Louisiana. We help resident low-income immigrant families obtain the paperwork they need for legal status and also offer English as Second Language classes at Christ the King Parish and citizenship classes as needed.

Gabriel’s Closet, our program for low-income moms and their babies gives young mothers a place to “shop” for everything their little ones need. We offer classes in infant and child care and safety, but there are many other ways these mothers can earn points so they may shop in the closet, like attending school, seeing their doctor when pregnant, taking the Money School class and others. The closet is 100% staffed and run by our incredible volunteers and is a place where these young women can find everything they need for baby from a bed to strollers, diapers, clothing and much more. Many of them now enjoy the sewing class, taught by a volunteer.

Our newest program, Benefits Assistance, helps our clients to complete state applications for benefits like SNAP (formerly food stamps) and other government programs that aid in the well-being and safety of families. In addition, we offer a Healthy Eating on a Budget class that teaches good nutrition and economy with hands on demonstrations and a store tour.

All that we offer is designed to give a hand up and to move individuals and families toward a life more hope-filled, safer and with a promise of a better future.

by Theresa Mormino, Catholic Charities of North Louisiana

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