Update from Innovation Challenge runners-up

December 1, 2021
Photo Credit: Catholic Charities of Santa Clara
Photo Credit: Catholic Charities of Santa Clara

By Patricia Cole, Vice President of External Relations, Catholic Charities USA

Announced in 2019, Catholic Charities USA’s Innovation Challenge sought to inspire member agencies within the Catholic Charities network to propose a fresh solution toward alleviating, reducing or eliminating poverty. It provided our ministry a platform to think creatively and innovatively about how they address the needs they encounter in their communities every day.  

Agencies were grouped into three categories based on the number of full-time employees – small, medium or large. A winner was chosen from each category to share the $1 million prize.  The remaining six agency runners-up didn’t leave empty-handed. CCUSA surprised each of them with a grant to invest in their innovative programs.  

CCUSA checked in with the staff at these agencies for an update on their program and what advice they have for others.


Catholic Charities of Eastern Washington and Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County were the runners-up in the large agency category for CCUSA’s Innovation Challenge award. 

Catholic Charities of Eastern Washington 

Catholic Charities of Eastern Washington’s PREPARES program provides meaningful, local and sustainable support to mothers, fathers and families as they nurture their children through pregnancy and early childhood. Volunteers at the PREPARES program offer support and activities for families from pregnancy to a child’s fifth birthday.  Initially proposed as a nationwide pilot, with the strains caused by the pandemic, PREPARES became a regional program, serving a rural three-county corner of CC Eastern Washington’s service area.  

The changing landscape of the pandemic continues to provide the team with opportunities to be innovative. Despite the unprecedented challenges, the families they serve always tell them what services will be most beneficial for them: “We just need to open our hearts and listen.”

What advice do you have for others who want to be more innovative?  

“The biggest piece of advice we would give is to learn how to pivot and be flexible in [your] service delivery.” 

Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County 

First started in 2018 to disrupt the cycle of intergenerational poverty, Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County’s Parish Engagement Program (PEP) hypothesized that trauma is the true root of poverty. Families and individuals who experience complex trauma require not only the practical resources needed to survive but also the social and emotional support that only a thriving community can bring.  They thought, “What if we were able to create a community that could help themselves?” 

The vision for PEP evolved over time to meet the needs of the community. The pandemic placed a large strain on agency staff as they tried to keep up with the great need and this program was very volunteer-dependent.  They now have over 1,000 active volunteers and five PEP staff across five parishes. Together, they have made an immeasurable impact in communities across Silicon Valley. 

What advice do you have for others who want to be more innovative?  

“Those who are closest to the problem are closest to the solution. Ask hard questions and receive the answers the community has for you. Then, follow-through and dream big!” 


Catholic Charities Diocese of San Diego and Catholic Charities of Southern Missouri, Inc. were the runners-up in the medium agency category for CCUSA’s Innovation Challenge award.  

Catholic Charities Diocese of San Diego 

“Transforming the Delivery of Poverty Services,” (formerly named COMPASS — Client Onboarding Management Processing And Servicing System), was designed by the Catholic Charities Diocese of San Diego (CC San Diego) to process and track clients from intake to outcomes. The solution seeks to manage client onboarding; collect internal and external referrals; capture data analytics on services provided and total clients served; and consolidate data for outcome measurements, such as quality of service and community needs assessments. 

Today, CC San Diego is one of five Catholic Charities agencies participating in a national pilot program, led by CCUSA with several technology partners. The goal is to build and test a case management system that can be replicated and scaled to the Catholic Charities network nationwide, regardless of agency size, freeing staff and volunteers from redundant and time-consuming tasks. 

What advice do you have for others who want to be more innovative?  

“CCUSA listens and wants to help [its member] agencies meet the needs in the communities they serve.” 

Catholic Charities of Southern Missouri, Inc. 

Catholic Charities of Southern Missouri (CCSOMO) created the Purpose Home Repair and Plumbing social enterprise program to rebuild homes and repair lives.  

The primary goals of the program are to develop a home repair and construction social enterprise to help low-income, unemployed and underemployed people, with significant barriers to employment, gain marketable job skills in the construction industry; and to provide case management for the soft skills needed to become employable and remain employed.  

CCSOMO is proud of the addition of case management to workforce development services. This unique alignment, often lacking with traditional workforce training programs, seeks to prepare people for re-entry into the workforce. 

What advice do you have for others who want to be more innovative?  

“Use the resources developed through CCUSA and connect with other Catholic Charities that are implementing innovative ideas, programs or social enterprises. Prepare to pivot at any time. Flexibility is important to see your idea through.” 


Catholic Charities of Central Texas and Catholic Charities of Evansville were the runners-up in the small agency category for CCUSA’s Innovation Challenge award.  

Catholic Charities of Central Texas 

One in five Texas children experiences a mental health disorder each year. From 2014 to 2016, more than 71 percent of Texas youth with severe depression did not receive any mental health treatment. In response, Catholic Charities of Central Texas (CCCTX) launched Counseling for Catholic Schools to improve the well-being and resilience of students, their parents and teachers. The program increases access to affordable mental health care by embedding virtual therapy stations in Catholic schools across the 25-county Diocese of Austin. CCCTX is piloting the program with three schools in fall 2021. Studying the problem and developing a solution took several years. CCUSA’s Innovation Challenge offered the perfect opportunity for the agency to secure seed funding to launch this program. 

What advice do you have for others who want to be more innovative?  

“Do not put the solution ahead of the problem. What are you trying to solve? Innovation begins with the challenge you are tenacious enough to tackle.” 

Catholic Charities of Evansville 

Handy Helpers Home Repair is a full-time job training program developed by the Catholic Charities Diocese of Evansville (CC Evansville) to employ individuals with disjointed work histories. 

Participants of the program are paid for their time in the program learning handyman skills and providing handyman services in the community. Participants also receive eight hours of case management services each week, referred to as personal development. The goal is for participants to gain needed skills to obtain a full-time job in their community at the conclusion of the program.  Several agencies and businesses in the Evansville community recognize the value of this program and have been important partners. 

What advice do you have for others who want to be more innovative?  

“Our agency began with the end in mind. We recognized that if we wanted to make a greater impact, we had to identify the barriers that have been preventing our agency — and those served — from accomplishing goals in the past.”