Each year, parishes across the diocese participate in the Catholic Campaign for Human Development annual collection.
Seventy-five percent of the collection is distributed through national grants and the remaining 25 percent is awarded locally in the St. Cloud Diocese.
CCHD is an initiative of the U.S. Catholic bishops created to help break the cycle of poverty in the United States by funding organizations that help individuals help themselves through education, leadership training and community economic development.
This year, the local funds benefited Catholic Charities’ Rural Life Leadership Development Initiative, specifically, the group known as Building Community and Empowering Families in Northern Mille Lacs County.
Education and leadership training
The Rural Life Development Initiative is a three-phase system that provides social ministry education and training to rural parishes and communities.
During the first phase, members of existing social ministry teams and prospective members gather for monthly sessions to learn about core elements of parish social ministry, including direct service, legislative advocacy, global solidarity and community organizing.
Phase two takes the work into parishes. The team hosts a parish input session with the involved parishes to talk about challenges and opportunities in the local area. An action plan is formulated and first steps are taken.
The third phase takes the conversations and actions into the greater community.
The first cohort of parishes started in late 2013, according to Kathy Langer, Catholic Charities’ director of social concerns. Twenty-nine parishes have been trained with 21 of those parishes continuing with their parish social ministry team actions and meetings.
Doug Scott, who has worked as a rural life coordinator in the eastern region of the diocese, has been working closely with the Northern Mille Lacs group. This team includes representatives from Onamia, Wahkon, Vineland and Isle.
Scott had already been working with people in that region on food-related activities, including a backpack program and holding a town hall-style meeting. Through the initiative process, two main areas of need were identified: transportation and cultural diversity.
“One of the first things you realize working in that area is that about half the population are members of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe,” Scott said.
He made an effort to connect with the Band and found that the initiative’s effort was something the Band could “get behind.”
The team formed a steering committee that also included people from the Band, area educators and other civic leaders.
“We talked about how to make community work happen,” Scott said. “We decided to take the ‘education first’ approach and let that prepare us for the work part of it.”
Beginning in December and lasting through March, the steering committee invited speakers to address topics like building cultural awareness, exploring the local economy, the challenges of small business owners, transportation concerns and poverty.
The group also engaged a consultant who took the information and facilitated conversations to begin to name and prioritize issues. Committees were formed to carry out identified tasks.
A byproduct of the effort
Crosier Father Jerry Schik, part of the Onamia transportation committee and pastor of parishes in the northern Mille Lacs area, saw firsthand the need to focus on transportation.
As part of the Onamia Ministerial Association, he was often in charge of supplying emergency food and gas, typically on weekends when other area resource centers were closed.
“People would come by for food to get through the weekend and the majority of them didn’t have a car,” Father Schik said.
“They would have to pay someone else to drive them into town to get some emergency food,” he said. “The least they want to do is buy some gas for the person who drives them there. It is a very rural area and many drive for miles just to get this food.”
Father Schik said he learned many residents were doing the same thing in order to get to the clinic to receive health care.
“There’s no bus that comes by every hour or at all,” Father Schik said. “It is just not possible for us to have regular transportation service like a bus.”
Through the Rural Life Leadership Development initiative, a committee was formed to begin addressing transportation concerns.
The committee has gathered information about possible options to meet specialized rural transportation needs.
“We are hopeful now that we have found some ways of matching people and rides. It may take time to get it organized but we are very hopeful it’s going to fly.
“We have a lot of highly talented people involved, and we put a lot of energy into it because we see the need. There’s no other way to respond to the Gospel,” he said.
Scott echoed Father Schik.
“We’ve got a lot of good people working on these efforts. There are many players who had a hand in building community, in getting people together. The same kind of movers and shakers in Isle, for example, didn’t know people from the other communities like Vineland or Wahkon.
“Now people knowing other people of like minds and interests will make it that much easier in six months or two years from now when there are things going on they need help with,” Scott said. “They will know who to call. To build that kind of community in nine months is pretty amazing.”
The group Scott is a part of uses funds from the CCHD collection to help cover general expenses, meeting supplies and consultant and speaker fees.
“We hope that the Rural Life Leadership Development Initiative will become a diocesan-wide program,” Scott said. “We hope that everyone in the diocese will have an opportunity to have this initiative in their region, and ultimately, because everyone would benefit from it.
“That’s the goal of CCHD, to have a long-term benefit in the community through work done by the community that has a positive impact on people’s lives locally,” he said. “That has always been the prize. To own and confront issues for the economic and social benefit of families in their areas is what CCHD wants to support, and in that regard it has been a perfect link.”
In addition to the local funds, this year, CCHD nationally funded three local organizations: La Asamblea de Derechos Civiles, a statewide, faith-based nonprofit organization that organizes immigrants from predominantly Latino congregations; the Greater Minnesota Worker Center, a nonprofit organization that organizes, advocates and empowers low-wage workers; and a new effort: community organizers at Catholic Charities for the refugee and immigrant communities who provide outreach across cultural boundaries.
“We are so very blessed by CCHD as it helps to give people living in poverty a voice and recognizes the dignity that is theirs as children of God,” Kathy Langer said.
“At this point we are receiving more funds than we are contributing to the collection,” she said, “so it would be wonderful if our collection could increase and come closer to what we are receiving.”
Contribute to CCHD
Parishes are invited to participate in the Catholic Campaign for Human Development collection the weekend of Sept. 16-17. Contributions can also be made via check, written out to CCHD, and mailed to the Department of Social Concerns, Catholic Charities, 911 18th St. N, St. Cloud, MN 56303.