By Allison Cavazos, Associate Director of Parish Relations, Catholic Charities of Central Texas
Catholic Charities works to provide service to people in need, to advocate for justice in social structures, and to call the entire Church and other people of good will to do the same. At Catholic Charities of Central Texas (CCCTX), we recognize that this call extends beyond the adult members of our Church. Our young people offer unique talents and perspectives, and they are ready to change the world for the better.
Catholic schools within our diocese are natural partners in our mission, and finding the right engagement opportunities is critical to developing these partnerships. Schools are hungry for opportunities to serve and live out the social mission of our Church in meaningful ways. After years of engaging with schools as they requested opportunities, we developed a strategy to connect our Catholic school community with the work of our agency. With the support of our diocesan superintendent, we kicked off the 2019-2020 school year with a “Menu of Engagement,” which outlined opportunities to partner with us in four dimensions: learn, serve, give and share. This purposeful effort helped us to double our school partnerships from seven to 14 over the previous year.
Agency Photo: CSSM Diaper Drive
A partnership menu can be developed by any Catholic Charities agency to outline engagement opportunities, allowing teachers and principals to easily identify preferred activities. The learn, serve, give and share categories ensure that the relationship is mutually beneficial. To develop the menu, we assessed the needs and expertise within our programs, ensuring that each was represented. The menu also included a calendar with suggested activities to align with holidays, feast days and the liturgical calendar.
Learn: Catholic Charities staff have knowledge in a wide range of topics that relate to what students learn in the classroom. At CCCTX, our Immigration Legal Services team teaches Immigration 101 to social studies or geography classes, the Disaster Response program teaches preparedness, and the Financial Stability staff provides budgeting and financial education. We offer Catholic Social Teaching presentations, as well as poverty simulations and education. Counselors visit schools to talk about stress, test anxiety, depression and other important topics that promote students’ mental health and wellbeing. The educational offerings are tailored to meet the needs of parents, teachers, and students alike.
Serve: Service is often the most rewarding experience for students, and the most obvious way to engage with Catholic Charities. Many CCCTX service projects may be completed on school campuses, alleviating space constraints at our agency and transportation barriers for schools. Students help us process material donations, including diapers, wipes and hygiene kits. They make Veteran’s Day cards for our Veteran Services program, and Mother’s Day cards for St. Gabriel’s Pregnancy and Parenting Program. Student ambassadors provide hospitality at fundraising events. Because client-facing service opportunities for students are limited, CCCTX staff share client stories and photos to show the impact of the students’ efforts.
Give: Students and their families are generous donors to CCCTX, contributing both in-kind and financial donations. Students collect diapers, hygiene items, gift cards or school supplies for Catholic Charities clients. Our largest diaper drive to date was held by a school that hosted a giving competition between grades, resulting in more than 15,000 diapers! Others have hosted “free dress days,” allowing students to wear street clothes rather than uniforms in exchange for a monetary donation to CCCTX. Material donation drives often lend themselves to service projects to help prepare the donated items for distribution.
Share: Catholic schools help to build awareness about Catholic Charities mission and services, as well as those challenges that agencies work to address. Schools can grow this awareness by sharing Catholic Charities’ prayer intentions at their school Mass, including Catholic Charities updates in their school newsletter, sharing their partnership on social media and more importantly within their families. Additionally, school communities receive information on how to access services and are invited to participate in CCCTX events.
Schools may select one or more categories based on their needs and interests. We recognize schools that engage in all four categories as “Catholic Charities Champions” and feature them in our publications. The first year of this initiative resulted in three schools receiving this recognition. Next school year, CCCTX will expand school partnerships to include direct service provision through our Catholic School Virtual Therapy Initiative, a Catholic Charities USA Innovation Challenge finalist project.Catholic Charities of Central Texas is honored to engage young people in our work. Together we can serve those entrusted to our care while building a culture of service rooted in Catholic Social Teaching.