St. Francis Community Services focusing on parish bases

Lisa Johnston |

A Catholic Charities' outreach effort has a new name -- St. Francis Community Services -- and an approach that stresses serving needy in neighborhoods from a parish base.

The move of St. Francis Community Services Southside Center to St. John the Baptist Parish in south St. Louis is an example of that model, along with a new center being planned for north St. Louis County. St. Louis County's Department of Human Services has provided a grant of just under $90,000 to get the project in north county started for the agency formerly known as Catholic Community Services.

Karen Wallensak, executive director of St. Francis Community Services, said that by moving to St. John the Baptist Parish, "we wanted to weave our ministries together so the effort to reach out to the community is one of joint ministry, so woven together that they're inseparable."

For example, the parish has a health nurse and Southside has a health clinic; the parish has a vibrant St. Vincent de Paul conference reaching out to the needy with dedicated volunteers and Southside has social workers and other resources -- adding up to improved and expanded service to the community.

The St. Vincent de Paul volunteers make home visits with a case manager from Southside.

"We've always had a close relationship," Wallensak said. "But this is different. This isn't just referals back and forth."

According to Father Carl J. Scheble, pastor of the parish, sharing resources makes the St. Vincent de Paul volunteers more confident about addressing needs.

St. Francis Community Services had been renting space for its Southside office on property of St. Elizabeth Academy, which closed in 2013 and recently was sold. Many immigrants served by Southside live closer to the St. John the Baptist site. The parish high school building, which will be Southside's new home, has been empty since it closed in 2008. While being renovated, Southside operates in the former St. John the Baptist convent. Southside runs a health clinic, case management, utility and mortgage and rent assistance, cultural programs and more.

The St. John the Baptist site will become more lively when St. Louis University's Billiken Teacher Corps arrives. The Jesuit mission of teachers in urban Catholic schools will be based at the former St. John the Baptist convent.

The help of the St. Louis community is needed to provide volunteer labor and resources for the renovation of the high school building, which will be made fully accessible to people with disabilities.

A youth program at Southside with after-school and summer programs will be based in the school building, continuing the school's heritage.

According to Father Scheble, the neighborhood has many elderly residents on fixed incomes and many economically fragile immigrants. Southside's move has been welcomed by Alderwoman Carol Howard, neighbors and parishioners.

The new effort in north county, the Catholic Charities-wide program Pathways to Progress, is modeled after a program in Ft. Worth, Texas, that provides intensive case management and services. Education, employment, health care, addiction, single parenthood, poor credit and other factors will be addressed as the agency focuses on helping people through one crisis at a time until they are stabilized.

St. Francis Community Services Midtown has had a neighborhood outreach from its base at St. Cronan Parish and has partnered with the Catholic Campaign for Human Development. Father Tolton Center has similar ties with Our Lady of the Holy Cross Parish.

The name St. Francis Community Services conveys the mission of the Catholic Charities agency: to love, respect and serve people in poverty, while reflecting the life of St. Francis.

St. Francis Community Services

The programs within St. Francis are:

• Southside Center, on the campus of St. John the Baptist Parish in south St. Louis

• Father Tolton Center, on the grounds of Our Lady of the Holy Cross Parish in north St. Louis

• Midtown Center, across the street from St. Cronan Parish in Midtown

• Tri-County Center in St. Charles

• Catholic Legal Assistance Ministry, offering legal representation in civil cases for people who don't have resources, with a Domestic Relations Project, Immigration Law Project and Veterans Advocacy Project.

• Housing Resource Center

Refugee Services and the homeless hotline will be phased out later this year as St. Francis Community Services focuses on neighborhood-based sites.

St. Francis Community Services has about 65 employees, a budget of more than $4 million and about 380 volunteers.

Donations of furniture and other items are needed for the conversion of the St. John the Baptist High School building. Cash donations also are needed. For information, call (314) 932-3300(314) 932-3300 or donate at 

Catholic Charities
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