On the invitation of the eight pastors in Eastern Contra Costa County, Catholic Charities of the East Bay is working with the parishes to help them develop a strategic plan for their region. Along the way, they have identified a growing need for social services in an area that continues to feel the effects of the financial crisis.
Demographic shifts before, during and after the Great Recession, the economic downturn that began in 2007, has led to an upturn in poverty, gang violence and instability in community, said Stephen Mullin, parish outreach manager for Catholic Charities.
As the social service arm of the bishop of Oakland, Mullin said, it is the responsibility of Catholic Charities to "work with youth, children and families to promote self-sufficiency, strengthen families and pursue safety and justice."
Bolstering that effort will be the work of the 21 Leadership and Organizational Studies students at Saint Mary's College of California, who are mid-career professionals in both the public and private sector who have returned to college to earn their degrees.
"We need to discover the expressed needs of the people, identify partners for providing service and develop a plan for building services and presence in the area," Mullin told the students in a presentation to the capstone project class.
Mullin and Debra Gunn, development director, told the students that Catholic Charities needs to develop processes for gathering information and for dialogue with its constituency and potential partners to help it identify and prioritize needs and resources so that it can coordinate effective services.
That's where Barbara McLaughlin's students go to work. They will put their community-based research skills, honed through the first year and a half of the program, to work in both determining needs and identifying existing agencies that might meet those needs.
"This is where they are supposed to take everything they've learned and apply it," she said. Right now, the students are working in two groups: One group is looking at the needs of the parish, with the second looking at the services currently available to them.
"Catholic Charities has been very generous in allowing our students access, and answering their questions," she said. "The students are exposed to the community being served."
In the project, which will take about eight weeks, the objective, she said, will be to "help the diocese get closer to the people in the street in the parishes."
The annual collection for Catholic Charities of the East Bay will be taken up in parishes the weekend of May 16-17. Envelopes are also available in this issue of The Catholic Voice and contributions may be mailed to Catholic Charities, 433 Jefferson St., Oakland, CA 94607.
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Her students will "sit in the pew, and walk the neighborhood," McLaughlin said, in pursuing their research.
Mullin and Gunn set three measurable objectives for the project: survey/dialogue with pastors and parishioners to articulate expressed social service needs; identify potential partners for social services; and identify gaps and overlaps in services and partners.
As he and Gunn described the strategic plan project for Eastern Contra Costa County, Mullin said he could sense the students' growing interest.
The students, Mullin said, "got excited to realize their capstone project or thesis is actually going to help people."
The students will present the findings of their community-based research to Catholic Charities executives in late June.
Catholic Charities' partnership with the college, which dates back about a half-dozen years, is rooted in their similar missions to serve the underserved. "Enter to learn, leave to serve," reads the inscription on the statue of St. John Baptiste La Salle at the entrance to the Moraga campus.
This collaboration, Mullin said, "uses all our levels of expertise," ranging from the Catholic college, to the social services agency to the parishes.
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