Catholic Charities in the Diocese of Raleigh will be honored this month for a program it helped initiate four years ago to serve some 200 evacuees who made their way to the Triangle to escape the wrath of Hurricane Katrina. In late 2005, Catholic Charities partnered with Lutheran Family Services to create support circles, in which a group of parishioners from local churches would work together in providing assistance to an individual or family in need. The program was successful, attracting the attention of Raleigh and Wake County officials, who asked Catholic Charities and participating churches if they would be interested in continuing the project as part of Wake County’s 10-year plan to end homelessness. The Diocesan agency and member churches said yes and The Faith Community Support Circle Program for Homeless Families was born.
On September 25, the program will receive the 2009 Arnold Andrews Award for Collaborative Excellence, presented by Ministering Together, a national organization that encourages dioceses, parishes and ministries of the Church to partner in providing health, education, pastoral and social services. The award will be presented at the annual gathering of Catholic Charities USA, a national organization made up of 1,700 local agencies and institutions nationwide. This year’s conference is being held in Portland, Oregon.
Accepting the award will be Rick Miller-Haraway, Director of the Catholic Charities regional office in Raleigh, and Roberta Macauley, Director of the Faith Community Support Circle Program for Homeless Families.
“This recognition will be shared by the people who contributed to the support circles we’ve had since the effort to reduce homelessness began, including the 37 we have at present,” Miller-Haraway said. “They represent 27 churches and 10 denominations.”
Catholic Charities invites churches to become involved in the program, then staff meets with people who will form the support circle, training them and instructing them on the sensitivity required in working with people who live in poverty.
While volunteers are essential to the program, the Raleigh director said, so are donors. He explained the city of Raleigh is providing $75,000 to assist in rental subsidies this year and that Wake County is paying for the program director’s position, plus an additional $10,000 in support of the program. Miller-Haraway said additional financial support, crucial to the program, is being made available by the John Rex Endowment, which has awarded a three-year grant, and by the A. J. Fletcher Foundation. He cited Jim and Barbara Goodmon, benefactors of the Fletcher Foundation, for their personal commitment to the program and their work in promoting the program to the local business community.
Roberta Macauley, director of the Support Circle Program, said currently an average of 15 families a year is being helped. With the addition of another staff worker in the next few months, it is hoped that number will be increased to 30 families a year. Macauley noted more families could be helped if more churches would become involved in the program. She said it requires six to ten people from a church committing to a minimum of one year working with a family. It also requires an approximately $2,500 commitment from the church for the year to help support the needs of the family.
In selecting the Raleigh-Wake County program as its 2009 national winner, the Ministering Together selection committee, called the Faith Community Support Circle Program the “best model of collaborative excellence” it encountered. One committee member noted that those involved in helping the less fortunate benefit by becoming aware of the challenges and obstacles faced by those living in poverty, often motivating them to become advocates of systemic change.
Rick Miller-Haraway agrees. “In my 30-plus years of doing social work and ministry,” he said, “this is the best program I’ve ever been involved with in terms of truly empowering people and putting our faith into action.”
This is the second national award given to the Support Circle Program. In 2006, the Interagency Council on Homelessness presented it with the “Home for Every American Award” for its work assisting Hurricane Katrina families who made their way to Wake County.
(The NC Catholics featured a story on the Support Circle Program in its December 2007 edition, which illustrated how a Raleigh parish was able to help a mother and her five children lift themselves out of homelessness.)