Catholic Charities Fort Worth makes a rather audacious claim: Ending poverty is possible.
The ambitious mantra literally decorates the walls of its light-filled facility, located just south of downtown, and it permeated the discussion during the nonprofit’s KNOW Poverty lunch hour.
I’d been invited by a friend to attend the information session, as an opportunity for Catholic Charities’ supporters to learn more about how the organization plans to achieve its bold objective.
I’m a big believer in the efficacy of religious nonprofits, and I’ve seen the great work groups like Catholic Charities have done in our community, around the country and the world.
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Where government programs tend to fail — bogged down by bureaucracies and red tape, strangled by inefficiencies and politics — private charities succeed.
They are more agile and adaptable. They do more while spending less, better understand and are closer to the problems they seek to address.
But even they have limits.
Setting its sights on eradicating poverty — the great failed experiment of American government for 50 years — seemed a little too optimistic.
It took only an hour for me to become a believer. If anyone is going to show us how to end poverty in Fort Worth, it may be Catholic Charities.
Unlike government assistance programs or organizations that provide basic needs to clients, like food and temporary shelter, Catholic Charities is in the business of transforming lives.
They take to heart the Catholic Church teaching that every individual possess dignity and structure their programs to recognize and reinforce self-worth.
That means not only feeding or sheltering vulnerable populations, but teaching them and equipping them with the skills and the confidence to provide such necessities for themselves and their families, thus keeping them out of poverty for good.
Success isn’t measured by how many people they help receive government subsidies, but by how many people are on a path to permanent sustainability and independence.
In no other program is this approach more tested — and the successes more exciting — than the Padua Pilot.
A joint venture with Catholic Charities USA and Wilson Sheehan Lab for Economic Opportunities at the University of Notre Dame, the program (named for St. Anthony of Padua, the patron saint of poverty), is a four year, $5.3 million investment in comprehensive and lasting solutions to the problems that plague vulnerable populations.
It begins by acknowledging an important but misunderstood truth about poverty — it looks different for everyone, has different causes and requires different answers.
Where federal programs aimed at fighting poverty make broad assumptions about its victims that are often wrong, Padua caseworkers apply a personal approach to each client, assessing their skills, their assets, their strengths and vulnerabilities.
They stay in regular contact with clients, connecting them to resources, offering encouragement and coaching, but also holding them accountable for effecting change in their own lives.
With a base of 200 clients, the Padua Pilot is tracking its progress and providing a wealth of data about what works and what doesn’t.
Once the pilot period is complete, the results will be compared to a control group using traditional approaches to assisting the poor.
While its outcomes are yet unknown, Catholic Charities other programmatic feats suggest Padua will surpass even its high expectations.
Indeed, in 2016 alone, Catholic Charities served 77,173 people in Tarrant County.
Through its litany of programs, the nonprofits increased the likelihood of academic success for 442 students, resettled more than 800 refugees, provided 88,000 rides to appointments and interviews, and cared for dozens of foster children.
Catholic Charities’ goals are ambitious, but its programs are working.
If poverty is going to be eradicated, Catholic Charities will most definitely have a hand in it.
More information about the Padua Pilot is available on their website under the ‘Our Progress’ menu.