Catholic Charities: North Louisiana’s Good Samaritan

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by Lucy Medvec

Who will you help today?

In the parable of the Good Samaritan, we are called by Jesus to go forth and treat our neighbors with mercy, even those we do not know. This simple directive is the guiding principle for the employees and volunteers of Catholic Charities of North Louisiana’s Monroe office as they work hard each day to help those who are most in need.

Since opening its doors in May 2016, the staff and volunteers in Monroe have worked with hundreds of individuals to provide financial education, tangible assistance for rent and utilities, donations of food and clothing, and most importantly, a sense of compassion. Their daily efforts align with CCNLA’s overall vision of working together to invest in people to alleviate poverty, distress and injustice.

Located across the street from Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church, the CCNLA office is off the beaten path from businesses and other nonprofit agencies, but in the past year it has made its presence known in the community. In fact, when the Louisiana 2-1-1 call center released its latest report, Catholic Charities of North Louisiana had more referrals than any other agency in the region.

Catholic Charities is one of many organizations in Northeast Louisiana that provides assistance with rent or utility payments, but it is the only nonprofit that requires an education component in order for clients to receive assistance. That important component comes from The Money School, CCNLA’s weekly class that offers financial education on money management, budgeting, expense tracking and more. The class is taught by Program Coordinator Joann Worley, who then meets with each client to thoroughly assess their financial situation. The concept of The Money School was slow to catch on in Monroe; for the first month of operation attendance was sparse.  That quickly changed as class attendance is now at full capacity (15 clients/students each week).

Other programs offered in the Monroe office include Gabriel’s Corner (offering baby necessities and clothing to parents of small children), food pantry and Gentleman’s Rack and Ladies’ Career Clothes (providing adult clothing for job interviews). CCNLA also offers immigration legal services and seminars to Northeast Louisiana through monthly visits from the Shreveport immigration staff. The work of the immigration staff helps reach clients in rural areas who previously had to travel to Jackson or New Orleans for assistance.

All of this work is done with limited resources and time. For as many clients that seek assistance from CCNLA, three times as many are turned away because of limited funds. Currently, the Monroe office is open three days a week with a part-time staff consisting of Worley and two office assistants, Marilyn Landry and Brenda Taylor, splitting one part-time position. Volunteers are also crucial to the operation of this office, which sees in excess of 30 clients each week. Whether a client is coming for rental or utility assistance, clothing, food or other help, the Monroe staff is able to provide aid through CCNLA’s resources or refer them to another local agency.

How can the Monroe community support Catholic Charities in its role as Good Samaritan? The biggest need is financial resources. The current financial assistance budget is $12,000 per year – a small amount considering the number of emergency requests the office receives each week. Volunteers and donations of clothing and food are always appreciated, but in order to take the next step of becoming a full-time social services agency in Northeast Louisiana, support from the community must rise to a level that can meet the need.

As the Monroe office nears its two year anniversary, it reaches a crossroad for its future in Northeast Louisiana. Donations from the community have grown over the past two years, but not in relation to the amount of financial need that is requested. CCNLA’s first major fundraiser, “Bingo on the Delta,” will be held this month in West Monroe. Already a sold-out success its previous two years in Shreveport, the bingo fundraiser is a casual evening of dinner and bingo, with local priests and nuns serving as the bingo callers. Staff members look forward to members of the Eastern Deanery embracing this event and making it successful for years to come.

Since its founding in 2010, Catholic Charities of North Louisiana continues to help those who have been passed by or overlooked in our community. As an important charitable partner of the Diocese of Shreveport, CCNLA will continue to show mercy and be the Good Samaritan of North Louisiana.

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