Each Lent, Catholic Charities’ “Soup, Salad and Sermon” luncheon serves as an opportunity for prayer, fasting and almsgiving to benefit one of its programs dedicated to providing help and hope to those in need of critical assistance.
Luncheon attendees partake of a simple meal of soup and salad while learning about Catholic Charities’ work with individuals and families, and hearing first-hand from someone whose life has been set back on the right track through the organization’s programs.
The personal stories the clients share are often emotionally-charged, and this year’s luncheon brought the room to profound sympathy and encouragement as benefactors heard the heart-wrenching story of one young mother’s efforts to reunite with her son through Catholic Charities’ Intensive Family Services program.
Standing at the podium in the dining room of the Diocesan Center in Harrisburg on March 28, Maria struggled with emotions as she recounted the trauma of being separated from her young child last year because of abuse by his father.
“Thinking about this makes me emotional because I never thought I would have to go through this in my life,” she said. Maria recalled weeks of supervised visits with her son as she worked with an advocate and a therapist in the Intensive Family Services Program in order to be reunited with him.
“There were days I never thought I’d have my son back,” Maria said.
Struggling at times to share her experiences, she found support from her therapist, Brittany, and advocate, Moira, who stood next to her at the podium, and who had accompanied her on her journey throughout the past year.
“Thanks to Moira and Brittany, I’ve learned so many things with parenting. I learned to speak up for myself, to do things on my own and to protect my child,” she said.
The Intensive Family Services program works with parents and families to help prevent out-of-home placements for children or youth at risk of abuse or neglect. Many of the families are struggling with domestic violence, drug and alcohol abuse, neglect and mental health issues. Teams within the program provide supervised visitation and help adults learn parenting techniques, coping skills and ways to confront family difficulties.
Family advocates work to help clients with housing, employment, food and clothing needs, while family therapists assist them in working through emotions and trauma.
“The situations that our staff are walking into every day, in and out of families’ homes and side by side with these families is phenomenal. I can’t brag enough about them,” said Suzanne Kearse, program director.
“Maria has done a beautiful job of fighting for her child and doing what she needed to do. She’s done some hard work and faced some really hard times, and worked with our team to graduate from the program,” Kearse said.
Maria was reunited with her son on December 21. “It was the biggest day of my life. I’m happy to say he is home with me,” she said.
“I know everything is possible now. I’m glad Catholic Charities was with me to help me through all of it. They have impacted my life and I can’t thank them enough,” Maria said.
At the conclusion of the luncheon, a number of attendees offered words of encouragement and commendation to Maria. Catholic Charities collected free-will donations to help provide services to other families in the Intensive Family Services program.
“The work of Intensive Family Services is a fundamental part of Catholic Social Teaching,” said Kelly Gollick, Executive Director of Catholic Charities. “Supporting the family is critical in the formation of a productive community that lives the ideals of Christ. When we demonstrate God’s love through our work with families, that love grows and spreads to others.”
Bishop Ronald Gainer offered remarks at the conclusion of the luncheon, saying, “We know that our family is the building block, the most fundamental unit of society, and it’s the most fundamental unit of the Church. … When the family itself is unraveling, then it’s no surprise that our society, and indeed our Church in some aspects, gets unraveled. I think we can all be so grateful that through the programs of Catholic Charities, we are serving families, helping to make them strong and healthy so that, ultimately, it will be for the strength and health of our society and our Church.”
Learn about Catholic Charities’ programs, upcoming events and how you can support their mission of providing help and creating hope at www.cchbg.org.
(Photos by Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness.)
By Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness