I recently attended a meeting to discuss the allocation of government funding for social services. Someone said of proposed recipients: “We just need to give them the money.”
That is, money alone will fix the problem, without an opportunity to help people become independent and self-sustaining. I found this mentality dangerously shortsighted, because it takes away both dignity and the incentive to change.
During my three years at Catholic Charities, and for more than five years before that at Cherry Street Mission Ministries, I have been blessed to see people change their lives. When you care about people, rather than counting them as numbers or outcomes, such transformation can occur.
I think of a teenage girl who became addicted to heroin. Even after she went to six treatment centers, she still couldn’t overcome her demons.
But after she discovered how much God loves and values her, and learned to pray and read the Bible, she broke her shackles of addiction. She graduated with honors from the University of Toledo with a degree in finance.
How do these observations apply to public policy that governs helping people in need? There must be demonstrated, heartfelt concern for every individual, and attention to the factors that cause his or her need. Too often, requirements of public funding create one-size-fits-all solutions and reduce people to numbers.
Just giving aid is not enough. We also must give people dignity and respect by teaching then the skills to be independent. Otherwise, money can be wasted and the cycle of need may never be overcome. Worse yet, people could become dependent on aid.
We must take care that programs do not just provide money or housing. If aid is to help create a successful outcome, we must help people surmount barriers such as addiction, mental illness, or loss of employment.
I have never met anyone who made poverty or homelessness a life goal. Circumstances contribute to needy people’s situations. We have a responsibility to help these people realize the greatness they have to offer.
Last year, Catholic Charities served more than 40,000 people in 19 northwest Ohio counties — an increase of 39 percent from the previous year. We provide food, clothing, shelter, disaster relief, and case management. We help families, individuals, elderly people, pregnant mothers and their children, and prisoners.
When you get behind the numbers, the most important part of Catholic Charities’ service is that everyone who comes to us understands our mission, which is to make real the love that God has for each individual, regardless of faith or background.
Catholic Charities treats each person we serve with the dignity and respect of someone created by God. We strive to be Christ-like to everyone we serve, in our actions and our programs.
We follow what Pope Benedict XVI stated in his encyclical “God is Love” — that our charitable work must show “heartfelt concern” for the people we serve and “not become another form of social assistance.” Otherwise, such work can become more of a business transaction, or worse yet, a numbers game.
We strive to help people realize the unique gifts our maker has endowed them with, and to give them the tools to help them live every day. Having heartfelt concern and helping to achieve real-life change is the goal of Catholic Charities. It should be the goal of all charity.
Rodney Schuster is executive director of Catholic Charities for the Diocese of Toledo.
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