Guest Insights | Catholic Charities celebrates 50 years of help and hope

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I got a phone call from Archbishop (Urban) Vehr asking me to come and see him, and I was dumbfounded by his request that I go off to get a degree in social work. It’s not something I ever would have thought of; it was one of the great blessings of my life,” said Msgr. Don Dunn. Upon earning his master’s degree, he returned to Denver and was appointed assistant director of Catholic Charities and given the mission of establishing Catholic Charities offices in both Colorado Springs and the Greeley/Fort Collins area.

Although the office in northern Colorado was slow to get off the ground, staff and board members were quickly identified for the new social service organization in Colorado Springs. Denver Archbishop James Casey officially signed the articles of incorporation for Colorado Springs Catholic Social Services in October 1968.

“We began very small with one or two workers, and it was concentrated on adoptions and foster care,” Msgr. Dunn said. “It was a modest beginning, but there was real interest on the part of the lay people.”

However, the agency was founded at a time of immense change both in the Catholic Church and society at large. In the late 1960s, Msgr Dunn had been part of a national committee of lay people and clergy who were trying to map out the future of Catholic Charities in light of the reforms called for by Vatican II. One of the committee’s main conclusions was that social outreach needed to be woven back into the fabric of parish life.

As a result, in the 1970s and 1980s, CSCSS changed its name several times and shifted it services away from adoptions to other services, including helping the Hispanic community with budget counseling and housing, adding homemaker services for homebound and convalescing senior citizens (funded from a grant that ended in 1979), and becoming involved in youth services including the Head Start pre-school program. The organization also became a United Way agency in 1983.

After the new Diocese of Colorado Springs was created in 1984 under Bishop Richard Hanifen, a Family Life Office was added to the existing agency. Sister Lucille Krippel had been working as a counselor and was named Family Ministry Director. She worked to increase cooperation among the various family programs run by the agency and to make parishes more aware of the services that were available.

In 1986, the agency was reincorporated under the name of Colorado Springs Catholic Community Services (CSCCS), and Sister Krippel was named director. “I would say that two big things happened while I was director of Catholic Community Services,” Sister Krippel said. “One was that Head Start spun off and became an independent agency. The second was that we became a licensed adoption agency during that time.”

“I remember the first open adoption,” Sister Krippel said. “To this day, that was one of my most touching experiences. We had a prayer service, and I accepted the baby from the woman who was relinquishing it and handed it to the adoptive parents. It was a very emotional but beautiful experience.”

In 1990, Partners in Housing (PIH) was initiated to provide transitional housing and supportive services for the growing population of homeless families with children in the Colorado Springs area. In 1991, PIH became a separate non-profit organization with five transitional housing units and several reduced-rent apartments. Today, Partners in Housing owns 60 transitional housing units.

In 1994, CSCCS took over the operation of the Marian House Soup Kitchen. It had moved into the Marian House in 1985, a house owned by the Diocese of Colorado Springs, and was operated by the Bijou Community. However, the growth was so significant that Catholic Charities was asked to take it over. Today, the Marian House serves a hot meal to over 600 people most days and is open 365 days a year, relying on 50 – 60 volunteers every day.

“I think it is the greatest sign of ecumenical efforts to help the poor in our community,” Msgr. Dunn said. “It has been a blessing and is a blessing to the entire community. Personally, it is very touching for me that in the center of the city is our cathedral and also this visible sign of reaching out to those who are less fortunate in such a public way.”

Around 1995, the Family Literacy Project formed as a result of a request from the parish of Our Lady of Guadalupe to provide English as a Second Language (ESL) classes to their Hispanic community. At that time, a partnership was formed between the parish, CSCCS, and District 11 Adult and Family Education to support fiscal resources and curriculum needs. When the cost of supporting the project became too much for the parish, CSCCS helped to fund the program. In 2002, Catholic Charities took over the project completely and continues to offer multiple education-level ESL classes at five locations, along with literacy-enriched childcare for children of ESL students. And in 2008, added comprehensive Family Immigration Services to help families with low-cost immigration legal assistance.

Started in 1990 to help people get the information needed to receive services, Marian House Client Services, originally called Information & Referral, was a program staffed by Holy Cross Associates. In 1994, when CSCCS took over the operation of the soup kitchen, the program moved into the Marian House to expand its reach. In 2005, a larger clothes closet, help with IDs and birth certificates, hygiene services such as showers and haircuts, and case management services were added.

In 1999 the Life Support Center, an independent agency providing emergency services to families with children since 1976, was incorporated into the CSCCS. Today, Life Support annually distributes tens of thousands of cans of formula, jars of baby food, packages of diapers and items of children’s clothing, limited maternity clothing, layettes, Birthday Buddies, and a Christmas Shoe Program.

In July 2002, Marian House Community Outreach began as a one-day-a-week program. By 2003, the program had expanded to a five-day-a-week program with a dedicated van and full-time manager, regularly using trucks from the soup kitchen to be able to deliver food, clothing, and other essential items to outlying communities. In 2005, Community Outreach purchased a 15-foot box truck, partially funded with grant money, and today distributes goods and services to churches, food pantries, and organizations in a 10-county area. Each year, they deliver over 1,000 food boxes to families in need.

On Oct 1, 2002, the CSCCS changed its name to Catholic Charities of Colorado Springs to be consistent with, and part of, the Catholic Charities USA network.

Parish social ministry programs have been part of the organization on and off throughout the years, but in 2006, in an effort to help Catholic parishes develop social ministry programs, the office was re-established with a grant from the diocese. Today, the Catholic Charities Community and Parish Engagement department assists parishes in serving the poor and vulnerable, and through funds from the annual Catholic Campaign for Human Development, awards mini-grants for projects such as parish food pantries and other programs.

In 2005, the Board of Directors of Catholic Charities of Colorado Springs commissioned the “Bridges to New Beginnings” capital campaign for to build a soup kitchen and renovate the existing building for a self-sufficiency center. Later, that goal changed to build a new building rather than renovate the current building. The new soup kitchen opened on June 9, 2008. In 2009, the doors were opened to the second phase of the Marian House – the Hanifen Center, which now houses Catholic Charities Client Services, Community Outreach Services, the Life Skills & Career Development Center, the SET Clinic and partner agency services.

In 2011, the agency changed its name to Catholic Charities of Central Colorado to represent the 10-county area it serves. In 2013, the Castle Rock office opened to serve the poor and vulnerable in Douglas, Elbert, and Park Counties and now serves almost 100 unduplicated households each month.

In July 2015, Catholic Charities opened a Life Skills & Career Development Center, providing individualized assistance for clients to achieve personal and professional goals. In the first year, 46 clients found employment, and to date, clients have been placed in over 260 jobs.

In collaboration with Family Promise, Catholic Charities began a pilot Family Day Center in 2015. As the only day shelter for families in crisis or experiencing homelessness in the community, the program was incorporated into the Catholic Charities Family Connections department, which moved into the Helen Hunt Campus in December 2017. Other family programs include comprehensive, coordinated case management, the Family Mentor Alliance – a program that transitions families out of homelessness, Life Support emergency services, and a variety of family strengthening and literacy-focused programs.

Sister Krippel, who now serves as director of the John Zay House in Colorado Springs, said she is happy to see Catholic Charities serving families at risk. “Family life is the basis of our society. If you can strengthen family life, you can strengthen society,” she said.

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