WASHINGTON (CNS) — The disrespect, the disruptive classroom behavior and the bursts of anger from her 11-year-old grandson Jacob just got to be too much for Grandma Elizabeth.
So when Grandma Elizabeth Johnson and her husband, David, sought help, they were referred to The Ark, a program of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Kalamazoo, Michigan, designed for young people 10 to 17 years old struggling with emotional and psychological pain.
That was in April. Jacob agreed to join the 21-day residential program even though it meant leaving the Johnsons’ home and friends in school in Three Rivers, 35 minutes south of Kalamazoo.
Since Jacob’s return there have been noticeable changes in his behavior, said Johnson, who with her husband are the legal guardians of 10 grandchildren, ranging in age from 2 to 14. The Johnsons were so impressed with the tools Jacob has learned to control his anger and deal with the emotional trauma of his parents’ violent and drug-abusing lifestyle that they have sent four other grandchildren to The Ark. Oldest granddaughter Jasmine, 14, was at there in early August.
“It is a very awesome program that actually changes lives, that gives young kids hope when they feel they don’t have any. My grandkids came back and they had hope,” Johnson told Catholic News Service.
The Ark might just be the kind of program that works on the margins of society that Pope Francis would visit if he were traveling to Kalamazoo during his Sept. 23-27 visit to the United States. He will be in Washington, New York and Philadelphia.
Fran Denny, The Ark’s executive director, said the program accepts kids from all walks of life who are experiencing family or personal crises.
Established in 1977, The Ark matches each resident with a case manager who helps in the development of social skills to deal with conflict, trauma and anger. The case manager also works on a plan for the entire family to follow.
In addition to the resident program, The Ark operates a shelter for runaway and homeless youth. About 200 to 250 young people utilize the services annually, Denny said.
The Ark is just one of hundreds of Catholic-run charitable programs that operate with little fanfare because they deal with people who are easily written off or forgotten by mainstream society — the people Pope Francis has reminded the world who deserve more than passing attention.
While in the U.S., the pope will get to see two such programs: In the nation’s capital, he’ll stop at a downtown church and visit homeless people who get meals through a program run there by Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington; in New York he will visit a Catholic Charities outreach to immigrants.
In California, Catholic Charities of Santa Rosa oversees innovative programs that uphold the dignity of homeless people including a program called Safe Parking.
Jennielynn Holmes, director of shelter and housing, said the program connects people living in their vehicles to parking lots at churches and parishes where they can sleep peacefully at night.
“Many times people who fall out of housing, the only possession they have is their car, so they live in it, go to work, get around town. So they need a safe place,” Holmes told CNS.
Catholic Charities of Santa Rosa worked with government officials and local congregations to arrange for safe, secure parking. Holmes and her colleagues did not want police rousting people from their cars as they slept in parks or on side streets.
“It’s also an engagement tool to bring these people to reach out to a new group of people who can help,” she said.
For the last three and a half years Catholic Charities also has developed the Nightingale program in conjunction with local hospitals to give people with nowhere to go when they are discharged a place to stay until their life stabilizes. Previously, program patrons like Brian Barnard usually remained in the hospital for days longer than necessary.
In Santa Rosa, where housing costs are skyrocketing, a program like Nightingale is in high demand.
“It’s saved the community $20 million by doing the morally and economically right thing,” Holmes said.
Barnard, 54, said Nightingale has allowed him to recover from a neurological disorder that has troubled him for 18 months.
“It’s supposed to be a short-term program for you to get better and get on to do the things you’re supposed to do,” he said. “In my case, it’s about getting my legs back, getting my life back together.”
Staying at Nightingale with its round-the-clock staff has allowed Barnard, a one-time chef who now uses a wheelchair to get around, to connect with the California Department of Rehabilitation in the hope of finding employment. Once he gets a job, he said, he hopes to be able to afford a small apartment and continue undergoing physical therapy and rehab sessions.
“I just try to keep my head up and do what I have to do,” Barnard said. “If this was not here I don’t know where I’d be. I’d be a lot worse off than I am now.”
At the opposite end of the country in northernmost Maine, a small farm connected with Catholic Charities is providing fresh and frozen produce to area food banks to help people struggling with hunger.
Dixie Shaw, director of hunger relief services for Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Portland, oversees Farm for ME in Aroostook County, an eight-acre operation where rutabaga, beets and squash are plentiful.
It got its start in 2012 with a grant from Wal-Mart through Catholic Charities USA.
The operation coordinates with a newly established local processor that slices and dices the crops, vacuum packs them and then freezes the portions. The frozen produce is stored until distribution throughout the winter.
Shaw told CNS the program’s steering committee settled on root crops because people, many of whom are elderly, said they desired to have vegetables in winter.
By providing frozen vegetables in nondescript packaging, Shaw said the program upholds the dignity of the people, particularly the elderly.
“They have a tremendous amount of pride,” she said. They don’t want service. They think someone is worse off than them.”
In 2014 the program served 25,774 people.
“We have got a very poor county,” Shaw said. “Not only poor, but very old. People in this country worked very hard when they were young, so there’s a lot of disabled people.”
This year Farm for ME hired a part-time farm manager, allowing Shaw to focus on developing other food sources for Aroostook County residents.
“This is about people,” she said. “This is about taking care of your friends and neighbors. I believe this with all my heart.”
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