“The Courage to Love” bears fruit for the Annual Catholic Appeal

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The 2016 Annual Catholic Appeal has raised nearly $14.9 million, exceeding its $13.5 million goal.

More than 51,000 households participated in the appeal, which provides funding for services and outreach in the 11 counties of the Archdiocese of St. Louis.

The theme of this year's appeal was "The Courage to Love," which focused on the archdiocese's legacy of performing courageous acts out of love, and continuing that today through the support of the appeal. In the past decade, more than $135 million has been raised to meet the needs of others, including resources for Catholic education, parishes, Catholic Charities and other social justice related ministries, life issues, vocations and more.

"Your generous response to the Annual Catholic Appeal helps us to share Christ's love and mercy with families throughout our archdiocese," Archbishop Robert J. Carlson said. "Thank you for your many prayers and sacrifices. I will be praying for you and for all who will benefit from the appeal."

This year, 150 parishes surpassed their financial goal, while 92 parishes achieved their goal for new donors. Fifty-nine parishes also improved their participation from last year. Total contributions with matching gifts amounted to $15.3 million.

"Each year the archdiocese responds with incredible generosity to help those on the front lines to serve others with the face and hand of love," said appeal chair Christopher Schmidt.

Part of his role as appeal chair includes visiting with the agencies and ministries that receive funding from the appeal. Schmidt said the experience is "humbling to see people dedicating their lives to making a difference. In many cases, that funding bridges the gap that allows charities to hire somebody, or start a new program."

Brian Niebrugge, executive director of stewardship and the Annual Catholic Appeal, praised donors for their generosity, especially as parishes are in the midst of fund raising for the Beyond Sunday campaign. The difference between the two campaigns, Niebrugge said, is that the Annual Catholic Appeal provides for the immediate and urgent needs of the archdiocese; Beyond Sunday fulfills the long-term needs of Catholic schools and parishes in the archdiocese, with an emphasis on Catholic school scholarships for middle-income families.

"I am deeply impressed by how generous Catholics in St. Louis can be," Niebrugge said. "Many people found a way to increase their Annual Catholic Appeal gift even while making a generous pledge to the Beyond Sunday campaign. That takes real love for the Church."

Extra income from the appeal will be used to provide additional help to key ministries in the archdiocese, including Catholic Charities, Catholic education, vocations program, respect life, youth ministry, missionary work and families who wish to adopt a child.

"A significant amount of the money raised will be invested right back into parish life, where the success of the appeal is generated," Niebrugge said. "It's hard to imagine all of the people and families that will be helped by the people who gave. Only (Christ) can see all of the needs that these gifts will fill. But you can be sure that more people will experience the love of Christ because of these gifts."

Opening a new door

Jim Frederick's face lit up when he talked about the new vehicle Doorways should be getting by the end of this year.

This year, Doorways received an additional $10,000 from the Annual Catholic Appeal — over and above its slated $25,000 — to help finance a customized 12-passenger van with a wheelchair lift and removable seats. It will replace a 10-year-old minivan used to transport residents at Cooper House, a Doorways facility that serves those living with HIV/AIDS and are unable to live on their own. The minivan worked, but some residents, including Frederick, have had a difficult time getting in and out of the vehicle, said chief program officer Pat Plumley. Doorways received a matching gift from the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet for the new van, but still needs an additional $40,000.

The new wheels will greatly benefit Frederick, a Cooper House resident who was diagnosed with AIDS in 1983. Because of problems with mobility, he uses a wheelchair. A longtime professional artist who specializes in acrylic paint, Frederick said trips to Wal-Mart for art supplies will be much more comfortable using the new van. An activities coordinator also arranges trips to doctors' appointments, the store and fun outings, including baseball games and the Muny.

Through the attention Doorways has received through the Annual Catholic Appeal, "our supporters across the archdiocese have been re-energized but, more importantly, new people came to learn about our critical mission of providing housing, health and hope to people living with HIV," said Doorways president and CEO Opal Jones. "With the funds that we receive, we can ensure that the basic needs of our residents are met, and that those with advanced illness and limited mobility can get out into the community and live with dignity."

Cooper House has 36 beds, and most, if not all, are usually full, said Plumley. Some residents transition into their own homes. She shared the story of a resident who recently moved out after six months at Cooper House. "He was emaciated when he came to us," Plumley said. "We helped him put on 60 pounds and helped him manage his medications. His mind is clear and will be able to go back out into the world and live. Our social workers will follow up with him."

Life-changing education

On a Tuesday morning at Nerinx Hall High School, Mayra Rodriguez was plugged into her MacBook, working on homework. The early morning period was "contact" time, an open period where students work assignments or meet with teachers.

Mayra graduated from St. Frances Cabrini Academy in south St. Louis last spring. Her school counselor helped her apply for a scholarship, which was the factor that ultimately led Mayra to attend the all-girls, private Catholic High School in Webster Groves.

As a Cabrini student, she served as an ambassador for two years, helping promote the school within the community.

St. Frances Cabrini prides itself on its diverse student body, said principal Pete Schroeder. The school has 175 students in kindergarten through eighth grade; they come from different racial and socio-economic backgrounds. Last year, 68 percent of students were eligible for federal free and reduced-cost lunches. The diversity, said Schroeder, "allows our kids and parents to embrace differences."

Annual Catholic Appeal funding helps the school with operational expenses. The school received $243,000 from last year's ACA campaign, which helps maintain its annual budget of $1.3 million. Without ACA funding "the school would be bare bones, and we wouldn't be providing a life-changing education," Schroeder said.

The school has replaced curriculum materials in the past several years, including English, reading and social studies. "We replaced books that were 18 years old," Schroeder said. "We want to make a program that is geared toward excellence."

The education Mayra received at Cabrini prepared her for Nerinx, she said. She enjoys math and social studies, including her world studies class. "We do more critical thinking and the teacher really challenges us," she said. "It's different than (Cabrini), but it's a lot of fun, and there's a lot of learning."

From a personal perspective, Mayra said Cabrini's diversity also helped prepare her as she came into a new school where she only knew a few other students. Cabrini, she said, "taught me to be accepting of other people and how they view the world."

Recovery after the flood

Christina Garcia and Marty Ulch stood at the edge of their backyard in Hillsboro, overlooking Big River, which flooded their house in late December.

"The steps became detached when the flood came," said Garcia as the pointed to the staircase that led from their property to the river. "We used to be able to walk down there — it's nice."

Approximately eight to 12 inches of water seeped into the house, ruining the foundation, flooring and cabinetry — not to mention personal belongings. They fled the property Dec. 28 and stayed with a family member for about a week. "We were able to get back in a couple days later to see the damage, but we couldn't move back in until eight days later," Garcia said.

After receiving emergency assistance, the two were connected with St. Francis Community Services, a federation agency of Catholic Charities of St. Louis, to help with long-term rebuilding efforts. Caseworkers also have connected them with other resources to help with the rebuilding efforts.

Catholic Charities is one of the largest beneficiaries of Annual Catholic Appeal funding, which in turn assists in situations like these, said St. Francis executive director Karen Wallensak. After the New Year's flooding, Catholic Charities organized multi-agency resource centers at four locations across the St. Louis area, in order to determine the needs in the community.

St. Francis Community Services provides assistance to help people access the resources they need to recover. Mostly, the assistance is for housing needs, such as paying a security deposit on a new place, or paying a utility bill so the account can be closed and open a new one under a new residence. To date, agency has spent more than $118,000 on disaster recovery assisting 295 households. Funding comes from private individuals and organizations in the archdiocese, including ACA donors.

"Most people don't realize the amount of time it takes to recover from that kind of a disaster," said Wallensak. "We will be working with people literally a year from now. We are here for the long haul — long after insurance adjusters have left the scene, the FEMA representatives have gone on to the next disaster, and the media has left the scene." 

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