Also winning awards this year were Catholic Charities programs in San Jose, Calif., and Hartford, Conn. According to Johnston, they had become a semifinalist in the awards program for the last three years.
“When Fr. Larry Synder, president of Catholic Charities USA, called to tell us we won, he said that the foundation was pleased with the progression of our programs,” said Johnston. “They were impressed with the fact that we have added a lot of programs and services that really help families become whole.”
Since beginning in 2005, the Family Strengthening Program has become an umbrella under which a number of service programs that assist families fall. Part of their mission is to establish strong families and in turn strong communities.
“Our belief is that if we strengthen families then communities are strengthened in turn because these families become advocates for other families on how to do social networking and advocacy for themselves and move out of their situations when they came to us needing help,” said Johnston.
Family strengthening specialists meet with families in need, helping them identify those resources and services that can help them. These programs might include Hispanic and immigration services, parenting workshops and assistance in family/school relationships.
According to Johnston, a major goal in Green Bay is to move families from their current economic situation to a more stable economic status. She said that Catholic Charities has seen an increase of 38 percent of people in need of their services. Much of this is in the area of budget counseling and financial literacy.
“We have found that if we can help people be better managers and stewards of their funds, then it leads to relationships being improved and enhanced,” said Johnston. “People are less likely to come in for mental health services or wanting to get a divorce.”
Bobbie Lison, who serves as operations manager and oversees the financial help and counseling programs at Catholic Charities, was equally honored by the $25,000 award.
“I was very excited. We have been trying to win this award for the last several years and we have made some significant improvements since we started,” she said.
Whether its debt management, home ownership counseling or teaching financial literacy workshops, Lison explained that her programs these days work with all different income brackets from zero to six figure incomes.
Both Lison and Johnston said that the money received will not go to any special program or new fund but will rather go to support the current Family Strengthening programs.
As a Family Strengthening Award winner, the Green Bay Catholic Charities will host a group of people from other dioceses who will come in October and see how the program works in northeastern Wisconsin.
“The people who didn’t get the award this year are invited to come and see what the finalists got their award for,” Johnston said. “That will be an honor because it will give people a chance to see what happens firsthand in the Green Bay Diocese.”