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placeholder  September 7, 2015   •   VOL. 53, NO. 15   •   Oakland, CA
College Information Guide

Rev. Robert Rien, parochial administrator at St. Ignatius of Antioch, with students in the Leadership and Organizational Studies program.
Courtesy photo

College students assist Catholic Charities in survey

When Catholic Charities of the East Bay wanted to learn how it might serve the residents of East Contra Costa County, the agency turned to a unique program to help find the answers.

"We want to do an expansion of services in East Contra Costa County," said Stephen Mullin, director of parish engagement for Catholic Charities of the East Bay.

Students enrolled in the bachelor's program in Leadership and Organizational Studies at Saint Mary's College of California were tasked with finding out what services are needed, and what services are already provided by agencies in the area.

As their capstone project in their 24-month degree program, the students — working professionals in a variety of fields — were divided into teams and concentrated on interviewing pastors and parish leaders in two of the parishes in the eastern part of Contra Costa County where Catholic Charities of the East Bay does not have a physical presence.

After weeks of interviews, and compiling data, the students presented their findings to parish leaders in a July event hosted by St. Ignatius of Antioch Parish in Antioch.

They did not disappoint.

"They could not have been more professional," said Rev. Robert Rien, parochial administrator at St. Ignatius of Antioch.

"They met people where they were," Mullin said. The respondents "understand the real needs of the neighborhood," he said. "They want the neighborhood to improve."

Barbara McLaughlin, their faculty adviser in the leadership program, was pleased with her students' work. "They dug deeper than I had expected in such a short time frame," she said.

Mullin saw a definite bright spot in the findings. "Half of the respondents said they'd be willing to help," he said.

"People in the pews, if they're asked, want to be the church in the streets," he said.

Mullin said as the eight parishes in the region engage in planning together. "They're using the report as part of their strategic plan.

The report will also be valuable to Catholic Charities as it applies for grants to fund services in the area.

"Catholic Charities has a grant-writing opportunity with this kind of research," McLaughlin said.

The report, Father Rien said, confirmed that Catholic Charities has no presence in the region.

Parishes, however, are "meeting real human needs," he said. "We haven't waited," he said. "As needs came to us, we jumped into action."

A question to be explored further, he said, might be "how Catholic Charities can help us improve services we are already offering."

The study might be expanded, Father Rien suggested. The students interviewed two of the eight pastors in the eastern part of the county. "The needs are very different from Bay Point to Byron," he said.

Father Rien said he and members of the parish staff attended a Transforming Lives tour at Catholic Charities' Oakland headquarters, where agency staff members gave examples of the ways they are carrying out the mission to welcome the stranger, heal trauma and promote self-sufficiency.

His parish, for example, is taking part in the Stand Down on the Delta this month. Father Rien said it will be his honor to celebrate Mass during the event, at which medical, housing and employment services are offered to homeless veterans.

Mullin said he was gratified to see "the enthusiasm of the students to be of service to the community." Some among them were not active Catholics, or were non-Catholic, he said. Some of those who have offered to volunteer with Catholic Charities beyond the project are also willing to commute to East Contra Costa County, significant because many of them are working and have families, as well as finishing their program of study.

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