Life & Justice grants help 14 area organizations serve those in need

Representatives from the 14 organizations receiving Life & Justice grants gathered for a group picture May 6 before adjourning for the evening. (Megan Marley/Key photo)

Megan Marley

Hospitals, mothers’ homes, soup kitchens and more…the Church in northwestern and central Missouri has served those in need through a variety of missions over the decades, putting in action the command to ‘love one another’ and the Church’s teaching on the dignity of every human person from conception until death.

And while this continues in our parishes and religious orders, some necessary ministries in the area also exemplify the Christian virtue of charity and need support as they protect and serve the sanctity of human life and the dignity of the human person. The Life & Justice Grant offered through the Respect Life and Human Rights offices helps these organizations help others.

A Simple House, Amethyst Place, CareKit KC, Catholic Charities, Community Services League, Family United Transportation, Foundation for Inclusive Religious Education, Habitat for Humanity, Innovation Law Lab, Jerusalem Farm, Missourians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, Morning Glory Ministries, Mother’s Refuge and North Central Missouri Business Facilitation were the 14 organizations who received the award this year, at the 6th annual Life & Justice Grant Reception held May 6.

At the ceremony, Respect Life and Human Rights offices director Bill Francis explained that there are so many ways to support the dignity of life it would be impossible for his office to do all of it alone.

“We realized very quickly the best thing we could do is rally the support that we have in the form of volunteers, donors and prayer warriors, to help you in your mission,” he said.

Francis said there are several opportunities for individuals to give in their parishes throughout the year, but the Life & Justice Campaign collection held the second week of August allows donors to see their money at work locally, and to learn of volunteer opportunities with organizations already vetted for Catholic supported values.

“If we are the Catholic diocese, we are the only ones who have an obligation for looking exclusively after the Catholic social teachings of the Church, making sure our partners support the values of Catholic teaching,” he said, then explaining a bit about the quantitative and qualitative way they go about assessing organizations for the grant.

“We want to get the biggest bang for the work that’s going on,” he said.

For A Simple House, the grant will help them in their ‘friendship-evangelization’ outreach ministry, living in solidarity alongside the poor and homeless in Kansas City, as well as in Washington, DC.

“What we’re doing through friendship evangelization is moving people a step closer to Christ in whatever way we can,” said Mary-Kate Burns, missionary. “Often we’re helping people with material things, sometimes it’s more spiritual things, leading bible studies and taking them to Mass, but we really try in our work to live the spiritual and corporal works of mercy.”

She also said they recently renovated a duplex for a homeless mother and son and hope to use the grant towards a duplex for another family in need.

Amethyst Place serves transitional housing for mothers recovering from drug addictions and/or mental illness and their children in the Kansas City area, helping them not relapse, become employed and be self-sustaining.

“What we’ve discovered along the way is that sometimes these women who have not been working and really want to work, or worked in really low wage jobs, they are accepted in our employment program and kept losing their childcare systems, they lose therapy assistance, and they fall off what we call a ‘benefits cliff’,” explained Kathryn Evans, Director of Development for Amethyst Place. She said they have been working to educate the public, particularly services providers directing clients to them and on the civic/public policy level about this problem, and the grant allows for more resources to do this.

CareKit KC has a goal to provide over 1,000 homeless and needy persons with basic living essentials and nonperishables in kits distributed through parishioners as an alternative to giving cash.

“These care kits help our homeless friends on cold winter nights and hot summer days. Our fellow parishioners and friends from our community bring goods to the parish hall, where we organize and assemble kits,” said Charlie Hodes, 5th grader at Visitation Catholic School who is involved in CareKit KC.

“In less than a year and a half we have held four assembly gatherings and assembled almost 1,000 CareKits,” he said with a smile.

Also receiving the award was Catholic Charities of Kansas City-St. Joseph, which helps 11,000 individuals annually with job readiness and employment, housing, adoption, emergency assistance and other resources.

“We don’t turn anyone away at Catholic Charities,” said Kathy Ficcadenti of Catholic Charities. “If someone comes in, we do our best to serve them.”

Community Services League (CSL) is an organization that helps the poor with income supports, employment services, financial coaching and housing counseling in the Independence, Blue Springs, Oak Grove, Grain Valley and Buckner areas.

“As an organization, CSL is focused on making sustainable change in people’s lives through meaningful connection, through coaching and through connection to resources,” said Rachel Barker, Vice President of Financial Coaching for CSL.

She explained that their partnership with the diocese through the grant helps people get out and stay out of toxic lending.

“Interest rates in Missouri alone can be 455 percent plus, and the people who use these loans, they’re probably the people who don’t have a credit score or aren’t able to access mainstream banking products. So our partnership to be able to offer these better loans is very important,” she said. “Since 2015, CSL families have been approved for $700,000 in safe & fair loans at 14.47 percent as opposed to 455 percent.”

Family United Transportation helps families of the incarcerated with transportation to visit their imprisoned family members in Missouri and Kansas.

Some families have transportation, but their either afraid or their transportation isn’t adequate enough to drive up to four and a half hours away,” said Audra McLeod. “During our journey, we’ve found foster care youth that have loved ones who are incarcerated, but have no transportation.

She also explained that foster care youth with incarcerated loved ones are often in need of transportation too, and experience a great deal of instability and change which can often lead to poverty, homelessness or prison.

“Family United became partners with local nonprofits that have foster care youth here in Kansas City and the goal is to become part of the rehabilitation process, so they do not become a statistic,” she concluded.

The Foundation for Inclusive Religious Education (FIRE) helps children with special needs attend Catholic schools by providing grants for the school resources, training and professionals needed for their education.

“This year we are making grants to 14 schools in our diocese, and there are 237 kiddos who would not be able to attend their parish school without the support that FIRE provides,” said Lynn Hire, Executive Director of FIRE. She said the Life & Justice grant will go towards a new speech language therapy program being launched in the next year at two of their partner schools.

Habitat for Humanity also received a grant, with the award accepted by a mother who received a house through the organization.

“I tried the conventional way of trying to own a home, and I couldn’t understand it! It was money for this, money for that, inspection for this, inspection for that—it was so overwhelming,” the woman said.

“A friend of mine told me about the program that his sister was in, but at first I was like naw, naw, I can do it…and then I went in there, and they told me I could get a house zero interest!”

Innovation Law Lab helps immigrants detained in Kansas and Missouri know and exercise their legal rights.

“We don’t have to look to the border to see injustice faced by migrants, we don’t have to look to the border to see family separation—we can see that in our own community every single day. The reason we’ve launched this initiative to provide legal orientation at these county jails, many of which have never had legal orientation,” said Ramon Valdez of Innovation Law Lab.

“Unlike criminal proceedings where you will be appointed an attorney if you cannot afford one, in immigration proceedings context, you either have to hire one or you don’t get one. So what that looks like on the ground here, you’re 11 times less likely to apply for status if you don’t have an attorney, and you’re five times less likely to win if you don’t have an attorney. It’s a deportation assembly line.”

Jerusalem Farm is a Catholic intentional community in Kansas City, Mo. that strives to transform their own lives and those around them through retreat experiences, sustainable living, service and prayer guided by Catholic Social Teaching.

The new initiative that this grant is supporting is our work in the Indian Mound neighborhood. Over the past seven years we have identified a lot of issues and struggles in the Indian Mound neighborhood, and so lately we’ve been working on phone repair for the elderly and organizing block parties to get people meeting one another and seeing one another, lending hands and using the experience Jerusalem Farm has in home repair, providing dumpsters and sweat equity to help these people invest in their neighborhoods,” said Scott Haluck of Jerusalem Farm.

Missourians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty lobbies for the repeal of the death penalty in the state, educating and informing citizens and legislators about the costs of the death penalty in the state.

“We applied for this grant since we started a pen pal program for those on death row,” said Jude Huntz, further stating every prisoner on death row now has a pen pal writing to them.

“This grant will also go towards our spiritual advisor program, and we’re happy to say that half of the men on death row now have spiritual advisors, with Fr. Tom Curran of Rockhurst being one of them.”

Morning Glory Ministries acts as a resource for Kansas City area poor and homeless, offering weekday breakfasts and hot lunch on weekends, emergency assistance, clothes, housewares, transportation and more.

“Morning Glory Ministries was started by the secretary that works at the Cathedral finding more and more homeless coming to the Cathedral because they were hungry. So she started packing peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and giving them out,” said Jen Tran, who runs emergency assistance at Morning Glory Ministries. “From there, it’s grown to seeing 120-230 people come six days a week for food.”

Mother’s Refuge located in Independence provides a home, education and comprehensive resources to expectant young mothers ages 12-21 who don’t have a safe or permanent place to live up to one year postpartum.

Angel McDonald, Executive Director of Mother’s Refuge, said the grant will go towards mothers’ education materials.

“The moms that come to Mother’s Refuge, most of them have not had good role moms and they are not able to take care of their babies all by themselves,” she explained. “We are going to purchase some real-care babies, so that before their babies are delivered they are able to care for a baby.”

North Central Missouri Business Facilitation (NCMBF) serves as a think tank for small businesses and entrepreneurs in rural north central Missouri, promoting local economic stability and growth through coaching and directing to resources.

“Our organization serves a six-county area north of Kansas City along the I-35 corridor, and a lot of rural communities over the past few years and decades a lot of businesses are struggling to stay open and many close. And when those businesses close, so do the jobs,” said Doug Schmitz, Vice President of the NCMBF board. “Our organization helps those businesses stay in business, helps entrepreneurs start their businesses, and even helps mature businesses where you have owners transition when they want to retire.”

Stephanie Williams, NCMBF Facilitator, further explained that the grant would go towards a business resources expo and hopefully launching a youth entrepreneurship program in 2020.


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November 26, 2020
The Diocese of Kansas City ~ St. Joseph