Catholic Charities offers financial training

By Maureen Smith
JACKSON – On Tuesday, April 24, Catholic Charities of Jackson and Catholic Charities USA (CCUSA) offered a unique training at Grenada St. Peter Parish with Bobbie Lison of Catholic Charities in Green Bay, Wis. Lison is a national trainer for “Your Money, Your Goals,” (YMYG) a set of financial empowerment tools. The idea is to give some specific problem-solving resources to just about anyone who works with people in need, especially social workers and case workers.
“This program is not meant to turn people into certified financial health counselors, but to provide them with tools and resources,” said Lison. “Say you are a mental health counselor and you can tell a client is stressed. When you ask why, they tell you payday lenders are calling and calling and they don’t know what to do. You can dip into these materials to find what you need to help,” she said.
Danna Johnson, who runs the Catholic Charities Office in Vardaman went to a training in YMYG a couple years ago and has been using the lessons with her clients.
Daughter of Charity Sister Mary Walz works at the Lexington Medical Clinic as a social worker. This may not seem like the kind of place to offer financial advice, but she says YMYG is an amazing resource for her. “I thought I was going to get a specific curriculum to follow, but this is better, because no matter what setting you are in, you can use this workbook to tailor your response.” she said. Sister Walz explained that when people come to the clinic she tries to spend a few minutes with them before their appointment with medical staff. She asks what their top stressors are. Many times the answer is money. “Finances can affect you – including a worry that you won’t be able to pay your clinic bill.”
Rather than try to steer her clients into a class, she can get specific information about their challenge and she and the client can tackle it together. “This program has modules to address different things, savings, repairing your credit, things like that,” she explained. One workbook asks clients to list all their bills and when they are due along with income. Seeing the information on paper can help people prioritize what to pay first, what resources may be available for shortfalls and it may help them see ways they can better manage their money. “This is very practical in helping someone line up their wants and needs. It is done in a very user-friendly model and is sensitive to the reality of people struggling with finances,” said Sister Walz. She said some clinic staff members want to go through the exercise for themselves.
The Consumer Federal Protection Bureau (CFPB) created Your Money Your Goals and partnered with Catholic Charities USA and other community service organizations to get it up and running across the country. CCUSA has three trainers who travel the country offering workshops like this one, usually for Catholic Charities staff members. At the Grenada training, other organizations were invited, including the president of the St. Vincent de Paul conference in Jackson, a representative of CHANGE Amory and someone from Canopy Children’s Solutions in Tupelo. “This gave us an opportunity to network because it brought together people from the Delta and North Mississippi who are in ministry who wouldn’t normally know one another,” said Dorothy Balser, coordinator for Parish Social Ministry for Catholic Charities of Jackson.
Each participant got a binder full of modules with lessons and exercises they can use with their clients, but the CFPB offers even more material on its website. Some material can be downloaded or ordered from the agency. To see the material go to www.consumerfinance.gov and search for Your Money, Your Goals.

Photos by Danna Johnson

Spots still open for Mental Health Conference

JACKSON – Catholic Charities still has spots avaiable for the Catholic Day at the Capitol Mental Health Conference set for Wednesday, May 23, at the Cathedral of St. Peter the Apostle.
The conference, originally scheduled for January but postponed due to bad weather, will focus on the need for mental health care reform in the state.
Keynote speakers include Joy Hogge of Mississippi Families as Allies and Angela Ladner, executive director of the Mississippi Psychiatric Association, will offer insight into what reforms are needed and how people can support them.
The day starts at 9 a.m. and wraps up around 3 p.m .and includes lunch. Register online at www.catholiccharitiesjackson.org.

Weeks before grand opening, shelter burns

By Maureen Smith
JACKSON – On Sunday, April 29, the dream of opening a new shelter for those fleeing domestic violence almost went up in flames. Catholic Charities was only a few weeks away from opening a new shelter in Jackson when an abandoned house next to the facility caught fire. The flames were so intense, they jumped to the roof of the facility.
“It was pretty devastating,” said John Lunardini, COO of Catholic Charities Jackson. Investigators continue to look for a cause, but Lunardini said the blaze may have started when a vagrant started a fire inside the abandoned house to stay warm on the cold night.
Catholic Charities was going to purchase the house and tear it down to put in a play area for children, but did not yet own the property. This move has been about four years and a million dollars in the making. When the previous shelter was facing some costly repairs, the Catholic Charities board looked at all the available options and decided moving to a new facility was the best approach.
After an exhaustive search, Charities found a new site and started work more than a year ago. The new facility, once renovated, could house nine families at a time. The building included rooms for staff members to be housed on-site to assist victims 24-hours a day. Other amenities include a therapeutic group and counseling area, a suite of offices, a family room, commercial kitchen facilities, a dining area and bathing facilities. The shelter will serve Copiah, Hinds, Rankin, Madison, Issaquena, Sharkey, Simpson, Yazoo and Warren counties.
Workers had begun to move in furniture and plans were in place to tear down the house next door when the fire erupted. Fire damaged the roof and firefighters had to smash a window to get inside to douse the flames. There is also water damage inside, but cleanup started within 12 hours of the fire under the supervision of Restoration 1 and program directors are hopeful they can evover.
The Domestic Violence program offers more than just shelter. Case workers and counselors work with survivors, usually women and their children to start a whole new life. Families must attend counseling. Survivors get childcare, help finding a new job and a new place to live and have access to resources even after they leave the shelter.
Counselors told Mississippi Catholic in 2016 that it can take time for a woman to transition from feeling like a victim to taking charge of her life. She needs support and sometimes some practical knowledge to break the cycle of violence and control abusers use against them.
The program can still use furniture and cash donations to get the renovations back on track. Insurance will cover repair to some of the damage to the building, but the agency will need to cover the gap and the program is always looking for items for the families who stay with them such as toiletries, clothing, gift cards for stores and toys for the children. To make a donation, call 601-355-8634 or donate online at www.catholiccharitiesjackson.org.

Life-changing opportunity: families needed for foster care program

By Maureen Smith
JACKSON – Hundreds of children in Mississippi need foster homes so Catholic Charities is putting out a call for willing families right now. Charities can train, certify and support families who take on this very special challenge.
Kelly and Kendall Spell wanted to adopt and started their process by becoming foster parents while Aiysha Johnson-Burks and her husband Justin Burks are supporting a nine-year-old foster child as she works toward family reunification. Both families foster through Catholic Charities.
The Spells talked about adoption back when they were high school sweethearts. They were working on a private adoption when they lost touch with the mother. When the baby was born, they got a call, but not from whom they expected.
“The mother tested positive for drugs and so did the baby when she was born, so of course CPS (Child Protective Services) was called. In order to bring the baby home we had to become licensed foster parents,” explained Kelly. Amy Turner, director of children’s services for Catholic Charities, took on their case, working to get their home certified and complete their training quickly.

JACKSON – The Spell family, (l-r) Kelly, Brooks, Kendall and Paxton. The family fostered their daughter before they adopted. (Photo courtesy of Spell family)

When Johnson-Burks married she and her husband knew they wanted to be foster parents, but she already worked for the Department of Human Services and could not take in a child from the county where she worked. Additionally, Justin’s late-night shifts at a local television station prevented them from going to the classes they needed to be certified. As a family protection worker, Johnson-Burks often had to take kids into custody from situations of abuse or neglect. She learned first-hand how overwhelming the need for foster families is in the state.

Aiysha Johnson-Burks, her husband Justin Burks became foster parents after their son, Roman, was born.

“I knew we had more than 500 kids in custody in Hinds County. In my very first case, I took two kids into custody, but did not get home until 3 a.m. because we had no home to place them in. That same week, I took two more kids into custody and had to drive them to Hattiesburg (to a group home) because we had no foster homes,” she said. She learned about Catholic Charities as she referred clients to programs such as the Solomon Counseling Center and Born Free/New Beginnings that helps mothers with addiction stay off drugs during and after pregnancy. A few years later, Johnson-Burks changed jobs and her husband changed shifts. They had a son of their own, but still wanted to foster so they started training.
“The whole process took about two-and-a-half months. We got licensed one day and got her (their foster child) the next,” she said. The family consciously chose to go through Catholic Charities. “For the support. We could have gone through DHS, I knew everyone there, but I wanted the support, especially for the child. Most of the children in custody in Hinds county are on psychotropic medicines. With Catholic Charities, she has a therapist, so we have a therapist. The foster team is awesome. They are so present and so patient. We have had to call the hotline,” she said.
Kelly Spell said the family had some rough days and nights when the baby first came home so they, too, relied on the extra support Charities offers. “We had been praying for her for so long because we knew about her so I guess its just what we felt like we needed to do,” she said. All foster families attend a monthly support and education group.
She tells families considering foster care or adoption they might be surprised. “We can do a lot more than we think. If anybody had asked us prior to this, I would have said no, I would have said there is no way that he and I could do it.” They are glad they worked with Catholic Charities. “This is more like a family. I can call them when I have something I want to talk about without having to make an appointment,” said Kendall Spell.
His wife said faith and support have been key throughout this process. “It’s God. God puts the child in your home and he helps you get through all the hurdles and crazy times.”
The Spells have a son, Paxton, who loves to play with his sister and he knows she’s special “because she got adopted.”
Johnson-Burks said she tries to make sure her foster child gets lots of opportunities to play and interact with extended family. “She was in an adult role in her home and doing adult things, so we want to let her know that she is a kid and she can be a kid.” She also wants to support her child’s desire to reunite with her biological family.
“She has an aunt who wants to go through the foster training process so she plans to reunite with her family,” said Johnson-Burks. “We explain to her that her mom has a problem she needs help with. One thing my husband and I understand is that we are fostering. We are keeping and caring for someone else’s child,” she said.
She and her husband see foster care as a way to be present not just to a child in need, but to a whole family. “Becoming a foster parent, I didn’t think about the what-ifs, I know what God’s gifts to me are and I run with that. I tell people to always have an open mind, you never know how you will be blessed. You will come to a crossroads in your life when you need help – financially, spiritually, physically. This is a family that needs help, so I can provide that,” she said.
“I think just knowing that you can provide what a child needs for a week or a month, that may be more than they may have had their whole life, so (do) anything you can do to show them that they are loved. Tell them that God loves them – even if it’s just for a week, we have no way of knowing what impact that will have on that child,” said Kelly Spell.
Turner said her office is ready to start training any family who has the calling and meets the standards. Therapeutic foster parents complete extra training and have extra supervision, all coordinated by Catholic Charities. To inquire, call Shamir Lee at 601-624-5288.
Those who wish to support the program overall can run or donate to Run, Foster Run. See page 6 for details.

Catholic Charities gets strategic

By Michael Thomas
JACKSON – During the last week of January, members of the Catholic Charities board of directors and governance council met at Holy Family Parish to begin the 2018 – 2023 Strategic Plan for Catholic Charites, Inc. In keeping with the mission of Catholic Charities in the Diocese of Jackson “…to be a visible sign of Christ’s love…” every five years a strategic planning committee is formed with members of the board, the governance council and Charities staff. This committee evaluates the past plan and develops a new one.
The plan will set forth a five-year set of goals and objectives designed to guide the agency, its board and governance council in actions that will improve outreach to consumers and operations. The theme for the strategic planning process is “Embarking on the next five years – The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps. Proverbs 16:9”
Bishop Joseph Kopacz began the full-day retreat with a reflection on Catholic Social Teaching. He included a review of the mission, values and principles that guide Charites. Senior staff members then gave an overview of operations along with presentations and updates from each program before the group began a review of the 2012-2017 strategic plan. “Today the council members were renewed in their focus and we are excited about the future of Catholic Charites,” said Cindy Jefcoat, chair of the governance council.
Traditionally, Catholic Charities has utilized a combination of a “SWOT” or strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats analysis, committee meetings and an internal employee survey to determine the goals and objectives in the plan. “This time we are going to add an external stakeholder and donor relationship survey to give us a better understanding of how we are viewed both internally and externally,” said John Lunardini, COO. Adding, “It is very important to hear from our partners, funders, donors and our parishioners on how they view the work of Catholic Charities in the diocese. In early March, we will begin sending out surveys to as many of these stakeholders as possible to gain the valuable feedback we need to strengthen our agency.”
This planning session comes at a particularly vibrant time for Catholic Charities. The addition of a COO working with Bishop Kopacz, who acts as CEO for the agency, along with a move into a new headquarters near downtown Jackson in 2017, have triggered opportunities to strengthen and renew the programs and staff. At the same time, the Diocese of Jackson launched a new mission, vision and set of Pastoral Priorities. The two efforts dovetail in their hope to encourage the faithful to ‘embrace diversity, serve others and inspire disciples,’ as the diocesan vision statement reads.
Catholic Charities is enlisting the help of Maris, West and Baker, a Jackson-based advertising agency, to redevelop the Catholic Charities website and update branding for the entire agency. “By the Bishop’s Ball in June, we expect to have a completed strategic plan and website that will help us increase our visibly in the community so we can have an even greater impact on the people that need our services the most and on the community as a whole,” said Lunardini.
Some of the accomplishments from the last strategic plan were relocating the Domestic Violence Center in Jackson, expansion of the MYPAC program under Hope Haven, implementation of an exit interview process and renewed COA accreditation.
(Michael Thomas is the Development Director for Catholic Charities of Jackson.)

Hope Haven doubles capacity, expands services

By Maureen Smith
JACKSON – Catholic Charities’ Hope Haven Residential, the only crisis stabilization unit for adolescents in the state of Mississippi, will double the number of teens it can serve thanks to a new facility. The new home can accommodate 16 young people and will have an exercise room and a space for arts and crafts as well as group activities.
On Thursday, Jan. 25, a moving crew along with the staff of Hope Haven and other Catholic Charities programs rolled up their sleeves to haul beds, dressers, couches and everything else needed to make a home. They set up bedrooms, common areas, offices and more in hopes of having the new facility up and running by mid-February. The Knights of Columbus from Flowood St. Paul Parish followed to paint and make repairs.
Michelle Hamilton is the director of Hope Haven. She said the new home is more conducive to the needs of the program and she is very excited about expanding. Teens in acute crisis spend 14 days in Hope Haven. “They receive individual and group therapy. We give them a physical and a TB test. They meet with our psychiatric nurse practitioner to review their medications, if they have them, or consider if they may benefit from medication,” she explained.
The teens aren’t the only ones who get care. “We take in the youth and their families,” said Hamilton. Therapists work with the whole family to determine what has caused the behavior or situation that prompted the teen to go to Hope Haven. They then work with both the teen and family to resolve conflict and develop coping skills to help everyone in the future. The family participates in the therapy so healing and progress can continue beyond the stabilization period.
If a teen needs more residential treatment after two weeks, “we help find the right place for them. We provide referrals and facilitate the move,” said Hamilton.
Being able to expand services at Hope Haven will make the therapy done there stronger. “We are very excited about the exercise room and the arts and crafts,” said Hamilton. “The teens need to figure out new coping skills. That looks different for different people. Some have never been taught coping skills at all,” she added. She said when a child finds the right activity – a long walk, painting or drawing or exercise or meditation or any number of other things, he or she knows immediately when it’s the right coping skill for them. Being able to offer a variety of things to try makes Hope Haven an even better program.
“We are very excited to move into a larger facility that will allow us to provide more services and reach more children who need help,” said John Lunardini, COO for Catholic Charities. “With so few options in the state for teens who need mental health care, this expansion makes sense. It also fits into the mission at Catholic Charities to reach out to the most vulnerable. When we see a place where we can do more, we are going to step up and expand or improve our offerings,” Lunardini added.
The new facility will also have a clothing closet for the teens. Hamilton said Hope Haven would welcome donations for the closet, arts and crafts room, snacks for the residents and even gift cards. “Gift cards for restaurants and movies help us because we like to take outings with the residents,” said Hamilton. Those who wish to donate can contact Hope Haven at (601) 371-1809 or email michelle.hamilton@catholiccharitiesjackson.org or tammie.harper@catholiccharitiesjackson.org

Packed house enjoys Journey of Hope

By Maureen Smith
JACKSON – Father Burke Masters headlined the Catholic Charities Journey of Hope meet and greet and luncheon Monday and Tuesday Nov. 6-7.
A few dozen fans turned out Monday night to the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame for a meet and greet, including a busload of students from Madison St. Joseph High School.
On Tuesday, more than 800 people listened to him speak at the Journey of Hope luncheon at the Jackson Convention Center. Father Masters told the story of his greatest moment of sports, when he hit the home run that propelled the Mississippi State University Bulldogs to the College World Series, and then contrasted it with his actual performance in the series, which was less than stellar. He went on to talk about how his life was truly not complete until he became a priest and began working in vocations to help other people find God’s will for their lives, but he does hold onto his baseball roots as chaplain for the Chicago Cubs.
The Journey of Hope is one of Catholic Charities’ main fundraising events each year. After the lunch, a representative from the organization invites attendees to make a pledge to support the work of Catholic Charities throughout the diocese.

Meet & Greet Father Burke Master

Meet & Greet Father Burke Master

Meet & Greet Father Burke Master

Meet & Greet Father Burke Master

Meet & Greet Father Burke Master

Luncheon with Father Burke Master

Luncheon with Father Burke Master

Luncheon with Father Burke Master

Luncheon with Father Burke Master

Luncheon with Father Burke Master

Luncheon with Father Burke Master

Luncheon with Father Burke Master

Luncheon with Father Burke Master

Luncheon with Father Burke Master

Luncheon with Father Burke Master

Luncheon with Father Burke Master

Luncheon with Father Burke Master

Luncheon with Father Burke Master

Luncheon with Father Burke Master

Luncheon with Father Burke Master

 

Lunardini to join Catholic Charities as COO

By Maureen Smith

John Lunardini, Catholic Charities COO

JACKSON – John Lunardini will step into the role of Chief Operating Officer at Catholic Charities, Inc., in Jackson on Monday, Nov. 20. Lunardini comes from the Mississippi Primary Health Care Association where he was the communications and business development director. Prior to his work in healthcare, he managed grants and programs for the Hinds County Human Resource Agency as the vice president of community programs.
Bishop Joseph Kopacz will remain at the agency as executive director, while Lunardini takes over much of the day-to-day work of operations and supervision. “John brings with him a wealth of experience in management, communications, IT and business development,” said Bishop Kopacz. “We are so glad he responded to the call,” he added.
Bishop Kopacz has been the executive director for about a year-and-a-half. “I am grateful that I got this opportunity to get an inside view of the operations at Charities. It is a good thing for a bishop to truly be immersed in the ministries of his diocese,” said the bishop. While he has enjoyed his tenure, Bishop Kopacz is happy to welcome a partner in the work.
Lunardini is a Jackson native and graduate of St. Richard and St. Joseph Catholic schools, but was not raised Catholic. His two children currently attend St. Richard and he and his wife love the community there. “We started digging down into ourselves to try and discover what we really wanted in our life,” he explained. They completed classes for the rite of Christian initiation for adults (RCIA) at Gluckstadt St. Joseph Parish and entered the church a few years ago. “It was one of the best things we have ever done as a family,” he said.
Lunardini was not looking for a job, but his wife saw an announcement about the Catholic Charities position in their bulletin and urged him to apply. “Not only am I looking forward to being able to serve the greater good, but to be able to combine that with my faith – that’s not something everyone gets to do.”
Catholic Social Teaching (CST) has had a tremendous impact on Lunardini’s faith development. He says integrating the seven principles of CST is at the core of what he believes Catholic Charities does. He believes they transcend politics and give the faithful a way to connect with the world at large.
“I think we should be asking how we can talk to people about these seven core issues – they are not just Catholic issues, they are issues of life, they are for everybody,” he explained. The seven principles proclaim the life and dignity of the human person; a call to family, community and participation; rights and responsibilities; preferential option for the poor and vulnerable; the dignity of work and the rights of workers; solidarity and care for God’s creation.
Lunardini’s approach to management comes from an African proverb popularized by Boston Celtics player Doc Rivers, Ubuntu. It roughly translates to “I am because we are.” To Lunardini, this means the success of Catholic Charities is predicated on the success of each person and program in the agency. Part of the philosophy calls for individuals to consciously and actively encourage one other and find ways to partner to make the overall organization stronger. Since Catholic Charities operates a number of diverse programs, this support is crucial.
(Editor’s note: the press deadline for this edition of Mississippi Catholic was too close for complete coverage of the Journey of Hope events. Look for stories in the next edition.)

MSU Bulldog, Father Burke Masters to headline Journey of Hope dinner, luncheon

JACKSON – Catholic Charities is pleased to welcome Father Burke Masters to this year’s Journey of Hope meet-and-greet on Monday, Nov. 6 at the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and then to the Journey of Hope lunch the following day, Tuesday, Nov. 7, at the Jackson convention complex.
The two-day Journey of Hope event is one of the biggest fund-raisers staged by Catholic Charities every year. The Monday evening meet-and-greet is $25 per person and runs from 6-8 p.m. This gathering gives people a chance to get up close with the speaker and get a preview of the luncheon event. The lunch starts at noon and is free to anyone. Table captains host attendees, inviting them to make an offering at the end of the program. Michael Thomas, development director for Catholic Charities makes the promise every year to keep the event to an hour so working people can always attend.
Father Masters has strong ties to Mississippi – he was part of the Mississippi State Bulldog baseball team that played in the College World Series and was nominated as one of the top student athletes in the college’s history. His vocation story is unusual since he was not raised Catholic. According to an interview he gave to Our Sunday Visitor in 2016, he went to a Catholic high school in his home state of Illinois because it offered strong academics and the opportunity to further his ambition of becoming a professional baseball player.
Father Masters became Catholic his senior year of high school, but continued to pursue baseball, earning accolades throughout his college career. God, it would seem, had other plans. He played for one professional team, tried his hand at team management and then went into the business world. He had a girlfriend and was living what he thought was a pretty normal life. He told OSV his call to the priesthood started when his girlfriend took him to Eucharistic adoration for the first time. He describes it as God’s gentle, persistent call.
After seminary, he worked in parishes in the Diocese of Joliet, Ill. Now, he is on the vocations team, helping other young men respond to God’s call to the priesthood. He also serves as the chaplain to the Chicago Cubs so he can stay connected to his love for baseball.
Tickets for the meet-and-greet are still available as are positions for table captains and seats at the luncheon. Contact Julie O’Brien at 601-326-3758 to purchase or reserve a place at both events.

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