Grateful for gifts of financial support and awareness

By Jeff Kurowski | The Compass | August 12, 2021

Longstanding relationship with the Packers helped Catholic Charities provide services

Karmen Lemke, left, director of Catholic Charities, and Denis Hogan, chair of the Bishop’s Charities Game, far right, joined Bishop David Ricken for a special presentation on Aug. 3, 2021, at Lambeau Field. Bishop Ricken presented a Bishop’s Charities Game football to Mark Murphy, Packers president and CEO, in recognition of the game’s history and the support for Catholic Charities by the Packers organization. The football was crafted from Honduran mahogany wood by Svoboda Industries Inc. in Kewaunee. Laser and finishing work was completed at Rawhide Boys Ranch in New London. The full-sized footballs served as the Bishop’s Charities Game MVP trophies from 2010 to 2019. (Matt Riebe | The Compass)

ALLOUEZ — Tara DeGrave recalls her emotions during the pregame ceremony for the 2017 Bishop’s Charities Game at Lambeau Field.

DeGrave, associate director and child and family services manager for Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Green Bay, was moved by seeing both the adoptive and birth parents of a baby boy, together on the field, recognized as recipients of Catholic Charities’ services.

“I sat in the stands and cried through the whole thing,” she said. “It was just awe inspiring. For families to not only meet (Bishop David Ricken), but to meet Packers players (and) Packers staff, who shook their hands; for our clients, they were seen.”

In 2012, Denis Hogan, chair of the Bishop’s Charities Game, requested that Catholic Charities’ clients be a part of the pregame events that included honoring the most valuable player from the previous year’s Charities Game. Following on-the-field festivities, the special guests joined Bishop Ricken in a suite to watch the game.

“Regardless of what service area was being represented on the field, for our clients, who often feel marginalized, that event and that involvement recognized the dignity and value they bring to the community as a person,” said DeGrave. “That highlighting them, showing that value, dignity, that comradery that you build having them on the field and in the box, was an opportunity they would otherwise never experience. It truly brought awareness to Catholic Charities services and other families felt more comfortable to receive services.”

Awareness, also provided through stories about Catholic Charities services featured in the Bishop’s Charities Game program, was the secondary gift from the Packers. The primary benefit of the annual game, which began in 1961, was financial support for Catholic Charities. Proceeds from the game have totaled more than $4 million. The Bishop’s Charities Game was canceled in 2020 due to the pandemic and will not be played this year or moving forward, due to fewer preseason games on the NFL schedule. The Packers made a donation to Catholic Charities last fall and will provide one more gift this 2021 season in recognition of the long history of the game.

“Over the years, financially, it’s obviously made a significant impact on Catholic Charities and our ability to provide services across northeastern Wisconsin,” said DeGrave. “To have the support of the Packers organization is huge for any nonprofit agency in this region or the State of Wisconsin. We’ve had that support for 60 years. It’s an honor and blessing to have that relationship for that length of time.”

“What do Catholic Charities and the Green Bay Packers share in common? Our willingness to serve others in need. That’s what united us,” said Karmen Lemke, director of Catholic Charities, “the impact we make on families, bringing them out of the margins, giving them hope for a better life. We are so grateful to the Packers for that.”

Catholic Charities has served an average of 4,000 people a year and expects to serve even more people moving forward, said Lemke.

“We never stopped services during COVID, so the needs were great then and continue to be great,” she said. “Some areas, in particular, are mental health as well as in financial health services. We never closed our doors. We were open during the entire time. We have begun and continue to serve people in unique ways including telehealth services that allow us to reach more people and be efficient during this time.”

While telehealth and video conferencing are available, Lemke explained that in-person appointments are encouraged to help build relationships. The fallout of the needs from the pandemic are still unknown, she added.

“How do we welcome people back knowing that everyone has walked a different journey these last 18 months,” she said. “A lot of things have happened in life, a lot of sadness, a lot of job loss, relationships, stresses on finances, so we are seeing, especially in our youth who are having to reacclimate, that families are turning to us for professional help as well as companionship to walk with them spiritually.”

The need for financial health services was slower at times over the past year when government aid was provided to families. That need is expected to increase as moratoriums are lifted, including the eviction and foreclosure moratorium, which was extended to Oct. 3 to areas of the country with substantial transmission of COVID-19.

“The bills have racked up, if you haven’t stayed on top of it,” said Lemke. “We are starting to see some additional calls on medical bills and rent, energy assistance. We don’t have an endless pot of resources, but we also have education and counseling to help people into a longer term, sustainable spot.”

Recent changes for Catholic Charities include a new website, catholiccharitiesgb.org, and a pilot program in Vicariate 1 of the Diocese of Green Bay that includes the creation of community crisis teams to serve area needs. The teams are made up of not only Catholic Charities staff, but also community providers.

“(In Vicariate 1), we are focusing on building relationships and building trust with our organizations across the diocese to really listen to the communities and the people in the communities to tell us their needs and how we can serve them,” said DeGrave.

Although the Bishop’s Charities Game has come to an end, Lemke sees possible future opportunities through the Green Bay Packers Foundation, for example.

“Thank you to Mark Murphy (Packers president and CEO) for all you’ve done for us and the community,” she said. “What is that relationship going forward? That’s in God’s hands, but the Packers are very generous. I believe they will continue to be generous. It will just look different. We are very lucky to have that team in our community.”     

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