By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
KANSAS CITY — For Deacon Dan Powers, the reason is simple.
If every human being is made in the image and likeness of God, if Jesus suffered, died and rose again to redeem all of humanity, then how can those who believe in Jesus ignore the suffering of any human being?
That’s why Deacon Powers took the job last summer as chief executive officer of Catholic Charities of Kansas City-St. Joseph, and that is why he still goes to work every day glad that he did.
“Catholic Charities looks at the whole person as being created in the image and likeness of God,” Deacon Powers said. “This is a place where the poor can come and get their needs met in a caring and loving environment.”
He’s not naïve.
“There is no program out there that can fix everything,” Deacon Powers said. “But when a mom calls and says, ‘My baby has no formula,’ we can do that.”
Catholic Charities of Kansas City-St. Joseph not only does that, but has earned a reputation for both the quality and scope of its services to the poor and disadvantaged to bring them the dignity of life.
Right outside the elevators leading to the sixth-floor Catholic Center offices of Catholic Charities in downtown Kansas City is a life-sized statue of Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta.
Deacon Powers sprinkles quotes from the soon-to-be saint in every conversation he has about Catholic Charities.
“Mother Teresa said we are not called to be successful. We are called to be faithful,” he said. “We meet needs. We leave the rest up to the Lord.”
Deacon Powers said that nothing that has happened in the first few months on the job has disabused him of the notion that Catholic Charities of Kansas City-St. Joseph is one of the top Charities agencies in the nation.
But he said he has found out why.
“This is a spectacular agency with wonderful, caring people,” he said.
He pointed to its Senior Home Care services that provide housekeeping services to help elderly clients stay in their own homes for as long as possible.
“They (the Charities employees) are so loving and so caring and so gentle,” he said. “We get high praise for our loving care, and that is a hallmark of this agency.”
Deacon Powers pointed to the TurnAround Program which helps clients recently released from prison to adjust to outside life and stay out of prison.
“The TurnAround program is giving hope to people who are forgotten — ‘Lock them up and throw away the keys,’” he said. “When they get out of prison, we give them new keys.”
He pointed to St. Michael’s Veterans Center, a place spearheaded by a Catholic Charities initiative that will provide 180 apartments for homeless military veterans who now sleep, by the thousands, on the streets of Kansas City every night.
He pointed to Project Rise, which helps homeless youth find training, jobs and a chance at a decent life.
And he told of dropping in on a class conducted by Becky Gripp of Catholic Charities Economic Stability Program, which teaches people between the ages of 18 and 26 who grew up impoverished basic skills such as budgeting, balancing a checkbook, paying bills on time.
“You should have seen that class. Every one of those kids was so engaged. These kids had never been taught this stuff before,” he said.
Deacon Powers told how Mary Ann Brockman, a specialist in programs for young families in St. Joseph looks at everyone she serves not as “clients” but as her own family.
“She’s the rule around here. She’s not the exception,” he said. “You can walk up and down the line here, and our people are amazing. They care so much.”
Those are just a few of the programs Catholic Charities provides to help pull people out of poverty. And when new needs arise, new programs will be devised to meet them. It’s the Catholic Charities way, Deacon Powers said.
His job? It’s got get out of the way.
The people in the trenches, Charities employees and volunteers, know far better than the CEO what their clients need.
“None of this is top down,” Deacon Powers said. “My job is to remove obstacles for our staff and volunteers. They know how to love and care for people.”
One obstacle is funding. Deacon Powers said he was overwhelmed when the recent Catholic Charities Gala at the Plaza Sheraton Hotel raised nearly $300,000 in one night from some 500 people who attended.
“We couldn’t do it without our donors. We’d have to close up shop,” he said.
“Vince Anch and his team (at the Catholic Charities Foundation that hosted the event), you got to give them a lot of credit. But it was just so powerful and real that night, and the people felt it,” Deacon Powers said. “And the Lord is good. He knew we needed the money.”
Deacon Powers said he will work to wean Catholic Charities away from government contracts and funding sources that are as instable as the political climate at any given moment.
“We are not going to walk away from government contracts, but we are going to do it in a way that makes sense for this agency. Where we can hook up with a government agency and they become a piece of our mission, that is awesome,” he said.
“But they are a piece of solution, not the solution. If we lose the government funding, the program has to go on,” he said.
Deacon Powers said Catholic Charities will be looking into more stable sources of revenue, including private foundation grants and the generosity of Catholics in the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph.
“Our donors make all this possible,” he said. “The only reason we are able to do any of this is the generosity of our donors.”