Collaboration is the key to Catholic Charities’ successful first year

Esmeralda Guerrero and Kent Ferris review a database of places where people can get assistance with basic needs. Ferris gave a report July 6 on the first year of re-established operations for Catholic Charities in the Diocese of Davenport.

By Anne Marie Amacher

(The Catholic Messenger is highlighting various programs and ministries offered under the Diocese of Davenport’s Catholic Charities umbrella. This is the first in a series of stories.)

DAVENPORT — Collaboration is an important aspect of Catholic Charities as it continues to make its comeback in the Diocese of Davenport.

“When we first began Catholic Charities (last year), we wanted to complement what we had in social action,” said Bishop Martin Amos.


The social action department and its umbrella Catholic Charities have continued to look at what services could be offered throughout the diocese in the future, he noted. “The first year was wonderful to us with counseling now being offered in our area.”

He also noted that work is being done with prison ministry in various parts of the diocese. “My hope is that we continue to look at ways in the whole diocese to bring services to those in need,” the bishop said.

Collaboration is most obvious in the form of counseling. For 28 years, staff from Catholic Charities in the Diocese of Peoria, Ill., has collaborated with the Davenport Diocese to offer counseling in its Illinois offices for those in the Scott County area. Now that service has a physical presence at Diocese of Davenport headquarters.

Catholic Charities therapist Amber Dopler said she and the other two counselors are trying to arrange their schedules to have set office hours in Davenport to meet with clients. “It’s been a slow start, but we’re working on it.”

Kent Ferris, the Davenport Diocese’s director of social action and of Catholic Charities, said in a July 6 overview that Catholic Charities is working collaboratively with a variety of community partners and promoting local ministry efforts.

He credited Esmeralda Guerrero for fielding calls for Catholic Charities while balancing her work in the social action office as an administrative assistant. “One to three calls per day are regarding Catholic Charities,” Ferris said. Callers are looking for help with rent, gas, food or other needs. She connects them with agencies within the community that can assist them.  

“In one short year, Esmeralda has developed advanced information and referral knowledge and skills and is of great help to those who call.” This is where the enhanced services have been most prominent – building a database of referral information, Ferris said.

Although the majority of the referrals are for Scott County area residents, he noted there are 21 other counties in the Davenport Diocese which Catholic Charities tries to keep in contact with.

In his report, Ferris highlighted other services offered under the Catholic Charities umbrella within the diocese: immigration, disaster response, partnership with other Catholic Charities, and support of ministries already in place such as parish health/nurse ministry and jail/prison ministry.

• The immigration program has operated since 1972 as part of the social action office and became part of the Catholic Charities umbrella in 2010. Two immigration counselors, Karina Garnica and Gricelda Garnica, serve approximately 400 people per year and strive to reunify families and work on adjustment of status and citizenship — regardless of clients’ faith or race, Ferris said.

• Disaster response also became a Catholic Charities program in 2010. Glenn Leach, a volunteer in the social action and immigration offices and a member of the diocesan disaster response team, explained what led to its development and progress achieved since major flooding struck Iowa in 2008. Catholic Charities USA and Catholic Charities in Oklahoma City assisted the diocese to work with existing local Volunteer Organizations Active in Disasters (VOADS). VOADS works with state and federal agencies, local nonprofit organizations and religious groups to tailor individual recovery plans. Leach said work continues with VOADS in Des Moines, Louisa, Scott, Wapello, Muscatine and Cedar counties. “Our most significant success for 2010 was our assistance to Washington County in the formation of a VOAD.”

• Counseling and family mediation services have been provided for years to diocesan residents through the Rock Island, Ill., office of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Peoria, Ferris said. Renovation of diocesan headquarters in Davenport made space available for an office where Peoria Catholic Charities’ counselors could meet with clients from the Iowa side of the Mississippi River.

Ferris noted that the Davenport Diocese also provides referrals for a variety of services diocesan residents may need from satellite offices of Catholic Charities in the Archdiocese of Dubuque and Diocese of Des Moines. Referrals do not address all needs within the 22-county Davenport Diocese. “But they do speak to our need to be creative and work collaboratively with other agencies in these difficult economic times.”

• In the area of parish health/parish nurse services, nurses employed by parishes within the Davenport Diocese met once, along with their parish priests. Goals for the upcoming year include quarterly meetings, peer support and presentation of topics of interest to supplement information nurses receive via professional development. “The parish nurses already in place can be of great assistance to Catholic Charities in identifying the needs and information important to share within the diocese,” Ferris said. Cathy Thennes, parish nurse at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Bettendorf, said she likes the idea of ongoing education for the parish nurses. “When we first started it was focusing on the nursing and medical side. Now we’re focusing on the spiritual side. We are always looking for resources.”

• Jail/prison ministry is an area that Catholic Charities is learning about from dedicated lay people and clergy involved in that ministry. In at least six locations across the diocese, Bible studies or Communion visits occur for the benefit of inmates in jails and prisons. Six lunch meetings were held within the past year to support those involved in jail/prison ministry. Along with updates, clergy and lay learned from guest speakers about many facets of that ministry.

The reintroduction of Catholic Charities “was done very simply and modestly,” Ferris said. It does not have a separate corporate structure, board of directors, by-laws or additional staffing.

“There is indeed a need for a uniquely Catholic service presence in the Diocese of Davenport. Those needs can be met with the services in place and the thoughtful expansion in other areas where no other comparable service is being offered.”

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