By Sara Kraft
This December, Catholic Charities in St. Joseph opened their doors to the public in their newly renovated building at 1123 South 10th Street for the first time. It was a moment for which the community waited nearly an extra year. The original building project experienced a major setback from a fire which occurred on December 27, 2015. The fire occurred just as Catholic Charities was beginning renovations on the building and caused damage to the roof, smoke damage, and water damage following the firefighters’ efforts. Additional work due to the fire included replacing the HVAC system, windows, and rebuilding walls. Luckily, builders were able to use primarily the same plans as prior to the fire. Due to the insurance claim process, the work took an additional 9 months. The restoration and renovations combined exceeded $400,000 which was not completely covered by insurance.
“We’re pleased to open in the Christmas season,” stated Stephen Hilliard, Executive Director of Catholic Charities Foundation of Kansas City-St. Joseph. When the lease on the current building was ending, the Catholic Charities staff began brainstorming on potential locations in St. Joseph. The 10th Street location was eventually chosen due to increased accessibility to the clientele Catholic Charities serves, including its proximity to both the bus route and the Health Department. Additionally, Catholic Charities was looking for more space to provide services.
For the past ten months, Catholic Charities in St. Joseph has been operating out of borrowed space thanks to the generosity of other St. Joseph area non-profits. Midland Empire Resources for Independent Living (MERIL), St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church, and Community Missions Corporation were very generous in allowing the use of their space. “This was so crucial in allowing us to continue functioning,” explained Laura Moore, Director of St. Joseph Office and Community Housing.
The goal of Catholic Charities is to take a Benedictine approach to their clientele. The staff and volunteers are looking for Christ in each person they serve. To help facilitate this, free coffee and water are available in the building’s welcome center, along with a children’s play area, complete with a toy kitchen. The staff attempts to engage each client in conversation about why they came to Catholic Charities as it works to determine the underlining need of the individual. For instance, if the client is able bodied and able to work and needs utility assistance, are they underemployed? If so, staff brainstorms how Catholic Charities can help both in the short term and also help fix the underlying problem.
“We listen to their story and figure out where they are. We determine which steps they are ready and able to take to improve their situation,” stated Laura. “If they are unable to work, we help them get their Social Security benefits. If they can work, we determine the obstacles keeping them from entering the work force.” Catholic Charities works to move those in crisis to stability, to move those in stability to self-sufficiency, and to move the self-sufficient to thriving.
Catholic Charities in St. Joseph has numerous programs to help their clientele which will be enhanced by the new facilities. First, due to their new location, they are able to provide additional work force development and life skill classes, including help with resumes, communication skills, and help selling their specific skill set. They are now able to have a dedicated room for these classes. Previously, these classes were for returning citizens (individuals previously incarcerated), but the classes are now available to more clients.
They also have additional space to store a limited amount of clothing and hygiene items. “You can’t buy toilet paper, diapers, and other personal hygiene items with food stamps. It’s a gap,” stated Laura.
Mosaic also helps with very limited funds for medical needs, including co-pays and transportation. Emergency assistance is also available. Catholic Charities also serves young families, especially the pregnant families. The goal is to make sure their basic needs are met so they can deliver a healthy and safe baby. Returning citizens is also a major focus of the program. Additionally, there is a housing program with 47 units located in St. Joseph for persons with disabilities. Supportive services for veterans are also part of the housing program, with rapid rehousing.
Across from the building is a park. The staff looks forward to providing outreach there to those who might need it, including the homeless.
The new building also provides much needed space for the Catholic Charities staff. The entire second floor of the building is staff office space, a conference room, a break area and brainstorming area. There is also very limited storage space for overflow donations.
“St. Joseph is very blessed to have a very collaborative relationship with other agencies. We all work together to make sure the needs of the community are being met,” Laura said. If Catholic Charities is unable to help with a person’s specific situation, they try to refer to other agencies that can help without sending them on a wild goose chase.
“Some of our funding is from donations. We greatly appreciate unrestricted donations. The needs of the community ebbs and flows throughout the year,” stated Laura. Specific items that are always needed include bus passes for transportation, diapers, laundry soap, household cleaning supplies, and toilet paper. Catholic Charities also seeks donations to fund the portion of renovations not covered by insurance and to continue their services throughout the year.
Catholic Charities staff anticipates holding an open house in January to showcase their new building.