Project focuses on family
Catholic Charities program offers variety of services to families
Editor's note: Ninth in a series on the Bishop's Appeal.
By Amanda Lauer
Bishop's Appeal at a glance
The 2008 Bishop's Appeal campaign provides for 50 percent of the diocese's operating expenses. All gifts are tax-deductible and credit cards are accepted. Pledge gifts allow donors to spread contributions over a 10-month period.
Those who give $500 or more a year to the Bishop's Appeal become members of the Crozier Society. Donors participating in Advancing the Mission stewardship campaign retain membership. Josh Diedrich, director of the Bishop's Appeal, encourages donors to ask their employers if they provide a matching gift program.
For more information about the Bishop's Appeal, contact Diedrich, at (920) 272-8197 or 1-877-500-3580, ext. 8197; e-mail: [email protected] or go online to www.gbdioc.org.
APPLETON -- Life can be overwhelming at times. When families have multiple issues they are dealing with, they often don't know where to turn. That's where the Family Strengthening Project, a program under the auspices of Catholic Charities, steps in.
Barbara Biebel, director of Resettlement and Immigration Services for Catholic Charities, described the scope of her organization, which is partially funded by the Bishop's Appeal.
"Catholic Charities is an umbrella organization which covers many areas of service," she said. "We have Hispanic outreach, resettlement and immigration services, budget counseling and debt management, child welfare - which includes our adoption program and adoption search - mental health clinic and a mental health counseling area."
The goal of the Family Strengthening Project is to "build vibrant communities by empowering families through family strengthening," according to Biebel.
The first step when someone approaches Catholic Charities for help is to perform an assessment to determine their needs. The most pressing issues are dealt with first.
A typical scenario might be a person who is unemployed, threatened with homelessness, living on a modest income, having debt, or having issues with family, stress, isolation, anger or depression.
Debt management counseling
"First of all we don't want them to be homeless. A case worker would look at the area resources to help them not lose their housing," said Biebel. "After the housing issue was handled, we would look at their debt management. Is their debt load so high they can't handle it? What other resources could be brought in to help them stretch their available money? That's where our debt management people and our budget counseling people would enter the picture and help stabilize that."
"Let's say there's tension, marriage tension or children-parent tensions, or depression or anxiety," she added. "We can work with groups; we can work with individuals to try and resolve some of these issues."
The staff members do whatever it takes to stabilize a family or an individual, said Biebel. "Then the idea is in the second stage, because this individual or family is more stabilized - they're feeling better about themselves, about life, about their social environment - they become able to reach out to others to refer them back for the same type of services as needed."
One issue that many of Biebel's clients face is that they are not U.S. citizens. "This is very common. We'll call them mixed marriages - one person is a citizen and one person is not. But it would stabilize their lives if all members of the family were resident aliens," she said.
"Very often, for people who are undocumented, they're flying beneath the radar screen and they're very anxious about it. That's where our immigration program comes in to talk with people to determine if the members of the family who are not documented have a way to become documented, usually through a derivative citizenship because of whom they're married to or who their parents are."
Laurie Martinez, an accredited immigration counselor with Catholic Charities, has the job of assisting people with concerns regarding citizenship/permanent residency and helping victims of domestic violence under the Violence Against Women Act. "I help them obtain their residency status because a lot of times when they are in abusive situations the spouse may say, 'I'm a U.S. citizen and if you call the police on me they'll take you away, you won't see your kids.' We are able to give these victims some hope and they're able to stay here."
These are people who have been permanent citizens for years yet have not officially become U.S. citizens.
"There's a huge backlog of people waiting for citizenship. The problem we see is there are people in the community that offer to do services like this but really are just interested in taking money from people," said Martinez. "We do charge $25. Our fees are way less than an attorney. I think we've established a good relationship with people because they know they can come to us for help and get good service."
Every situation is unique, said Martinez. "Sometimes it's very complex, where we have to do a lot of investigation or research. Most of the people we can help here and most of the people I think feel reassured that they're receiving help through us."
Consumer credit counseling
Money issues seem to be a concern for most families, particularly in the current economy. Debbie Sobiesczyk is a consumer credit counselor with Catholic Charities, who primarily works with families one-on-one addressing their financial needs.
"I work with husbands and wives and help them try to get their budget in order," she said. "We focus on paying themselves first, 'Let's make sure you have enough to cover your living expenses.' Then we work with them and try to get the debts organized. The budget counseling services are free."
Catholic Charities is trying to reach anybody who needs help, said Sobiesczyk. "People just don't know where to begin. Even if it's just steering them in the right direction, I think that means a lot to people."