A milestone moment was celebrated recently by the staff and clients of Catholic Social Services’ Community Umbrella Agency (CUA) in Greater Northeast Philadelphia.

This summer the agency marked a decade of providing support services to the community by hosting a weeklong celebration which included a community giveaway event to distribute food, backpacks, and diapers; social activities for staff; and a celebratory gathering with dignitaries from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and the Department of Human Services (DHS).

The Community Umbrella Agency, established in 2013 by DHS, provides community engagement, prevention and intervention services, and case management services formerly maintained by DHS.

The purpose for creating umbrella agencies was to increase accessibility to social services to families within the community, according to Ginger Smith, Director of Prevention and Intervention Services for the Community Umbrella Agency (CUA).

“You had to go downtown to 1515 Arch Street in Philadelphia before,” she said. “Now DHS and the CUAs have a shared responsibility in managing cases.”

Smith noted that the agency focuses on case management as well as prevention services.

“Case management is responsible for monitoring the children going into homes,” she explained. “Case managers are doing visit safety checks, checking on the wellness and well-being of the children.”

Smith said when children are removed from their home and placed with a foster parent or resource family, CSS staff focuses on addressing the challenges that a family may be experiencing. “It could be mental health; it could be food or home insecurity, domestic violence, neglect, or any combination of those things,” she added.

The main objective, Smith emphasized, is reunifying children with their families. “When that is not feasible, then we look to other forms of permanency, such as kinship care, where they would go with their birth family, or adoption, where they may have a good match with the foster family they’ve been staying with, and then that becomes their permanent home,” she said.

Community engagement programs include parent cafes, a weekly diaper bank, and an annual Operation Bundle Up event.

Smith explained that the parent cafes are modeled after the Restrengthening Families framework and focus on educating parents about child development and how they can improve their parenting skills.

“The weekly diaper bank was started during the pandemic and has continued to thrive,” she added. “Operation Bundle Up is our annual winter coat distribution which also includes a resource fair. We invite community partners to share resource information with families. We usually have a DJ, entertainment activities, and crafts for the kids.”

Smith noted that approximately 1,000 coats are given out during Operation Bundle Up, and the agency recently partnered with the Philadelphia sheriff’s department to host a second coat giveaway.

A highlight of the weeklong celebration in late August was a successful community giveaway event.

“We gave out about 350 to 400 book bags and food and diapers,” Smith said. “The community response was tremendous. It was a drive-by event where families remained in their cars and our staff and volunteers greeted them, asked what items they needed, and we passed the donations off to the families.”

Members of the CUA team pose for a photo at the 10th Anniversary Celebration. Dedicated staff and volunteers provide assistance to approximately 10,000 families every year . (Photo: Catholic Social Services).

Over the past decade the CUA has made a significant impact in the Northeast Philadelphia community, and she estimates the agency helps approximately 10,000 families every year through its case management services and community engagement programs.

“The impact has been tremendous, and we’re still growing as an agency,” Smith said. “We’re like a family internally, and the families we have come to know and have built rapport with, they’re like our extended family.”

Lance Wright, CUA Community Liaison, explained that the agency frequently serves families from various ethnic backgrounds.

“To be able to work with refugees and immigrants from Uzbekistan, Ukraine, and Arab countries is important to us because we get the chance to interact and learn about their culture and they learn about ours,” Wright said. “We try to be very welcoming and empathetic to their situation and the transition they’re going through. I think it’s very impactful to come to somewhere new and be received with open arms. We have a very passionate field team that is very caring cognizant of trauma and transition.”

“I get gratification from seeing the families and children come out and enjoy our events,” Smith added. “We really pride ourselves on showing folks a good time. It’s nice to come to a space where they’re welcome, where they can get resources, where they can get something to eat, and they can network and socialize and not be so isolated.”