WASHINGTON (CNS) — Catholic Charities USA and researchers at the University of Notre Dame are joining together to study which local social services work best in moving people out of poverty.
The effort, which the two organizations describe as an alliance, will identify local programs that might be duplicated elsewhere in the drive to help people and families move toward self-sufficiency.
“The bottom line is that we want to make sure what we’re doing is really beneficial to people and give them the skills to become self-sufficient and in many cases to leave poverty behind rather than keep them in a maintain mode,” said Father Larry Snyder, president of Catholic Charities USA.
Initially the arrangement will find small teams of researchers, working through Notre Dame’s recently established Lab for Economic Opportunities, visiting agencies to collect and analyze data about individual programs to determine how people have benefited.
Economic professors William Evans and James Sullivan, who started the lab, told Catholic News Service the effort broadens a partnership the two organizations had built during the last nine years which saw local Catholic Charities staff enrolling in training programs at the university.
“(Catholic Charities USA) wanted to know what programs work and what programs don’t work,” Sullivan said.
Evans said he was excited by the prospect of sharing what is learned at one local Catholic Charities agency with a nationwide network of programs.
“That is what makes this partnership quite different,” he said.
The project involves more than the research conducted through the lab. Other aspects include:
— Faculty and advisers to Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business will be involved in developing solutions where local programs fall short of meeting people’s needs.
— The university’s Career Center, Alumni Association and Center for Social Concerns will connect students seeking internships and alumni seeking employment to the nationwide Catholic Charities network.
— The development of initiatives and advocacy for policies to reduce poverty from a cross section of the university.
Sullivan said the first visits by researchers will be to Catholic Charities programs in Chicago this summer. The researchers plan to look at special stores that offer food and other products eligible under the Special Supplemental Program for Women, Infants and Children as well as a homelessness prevention call center.
Other projects to be studied include a support program to help community college students continue their education in Fort Worth, Texas, and a new early childhood education center in San Jose, Calif.
Father Snyder said he expects that Catholic Charities employees will benefit from teaming with the academic community to refine the delivery of services.
“Human services we know very much on the ground what appears to work,” he said. “Academics on the other hand are able through science, through metrics, to pinpoint what in fact is working and what is not working so that we can truly make the best use of the limited resources that we have.”