By Steve Kaufman | Courtesy Photos
THIS SPRING, at the Changing Lives Giving Hope Gala at the Galt House, a young woman will step to the podium.
She’ll tell about showing up a few years ago on the front porch of St. Elizabeth Catholic Charities in New Albany, homeless, all her possessions in a garbage bag, and about how, today, she’s running her own business and has two children in college.
Stories like that are wonderfully inspiring. But you get the idea that, for Mark Casper, the agency director at St. Elizabeth’s, the most important story is the next one.
With all the successes the agency has had, there’s still an ongoing supply of pregnant women, homeless women, women fleeing abusive situations, women battling some kind of addiction, women who find themselves out of work – women who just need a roof above, a pillow beneath their heads and a little kindness.
St. Elizabeth’s runs nine separate programs and owns a full block of real estate in downtown New Albany, but at its core it’s a pretty straightforward operation: “Helping needy women and children,” explained Casper. “That’s what we’re about.”
Currently, the newest addition to the program is the expanded Marie’s Ministry, a community distribution program that recently opened new quarters at 306 E. Seventh St., on the eastern end of St. Elizabeth’s campus. It’s a free supply unit for pretty much everything an expectant mother and her new infant could need, from diapers, wipes and baby food to maternity and toddler clothing to nursery furniture.
“We used to operate out of the basement of one of our shelters,” Casper said, “but the amount of inventory outgrew that small space and so we built this 2,600-square-foot facility.”
While women living on the campus are primary recipients for the goods, in fact 70 percent of the items are dispersed throughout the community.
The principle of “anything to help” originated in 1989, when St. Elizabeth’s opened a crisis pregnancy center in New Albany. But it found there was so much more to do.
“After giving birth, the women and their babies need some kind of transitional shelter,” said Social Services Director Leslie Townsend Cronin, “and then, when they’re ready to return to the community, they often can’t afford market-rate rental housing. So, we provide all those kinds of living accommodations.”
Through mergers, St. Elizabeth’s added a mental health counseling program, a licensed adoption agency, a supported living program for adults with developmental delays and a CASA (court appointed special advocate) program, supervising visitations between children and non-custodial parents in Floyd and Washington counties.
But the original mission hasn’t changed. “We have 50 needy women and children living with us,” said Townsend Cronin. “We’re not a drug-and-alcohol addiction treatment center, or an abuse shelter, though we do have residents with these issues. Most, however, are just homeless, and if we can keep them on campus, with access to other support programs, we can keep them off the streets, out of the shelters and out from under the viaducts.”
St. Elizabeth Catholic Charities’ annual gala, called Changing Lives Giving Hope, will be held 6 p.m. April 21 at the Galt House. Although there are no tickets sold to the event, supporters and dignitaries always fill the audience of 600-plus attendees. Attendees will hear inspirational stories of from former residents and clients of St. Elizabeth’s programs. Silent and live auctions will accompany the sit-down dinner and someone will do an ask for anonymous donations. “Our goal is to raise $150,000 that evening,” said agency director Mark Casper. “Every dollar we raise will go to counseling and case management.” Dress ranges from tuxedoes and evening gowns to cocktail attire. While there are no tickets, St. Elizabeth’s does require that reservations are made, so a dinner count can be given to the Galt House. To RSVP, please email email@example.com.
HOW TO HELP
Apart from donations, St. Elizabeth’s welcomes volunteers of almost every stripe. “We have a group from the University of Louisville Ecumenical Center that comes out every third Saturday of the month, doing whatever we need that week,” said agency director Mark Casper. “This week, they’ll be painting a building we’re renovating.” These days, people are needed to sort and give away merchandise at Marie’s Ministry – very light work, Casper said. Anyone interested can go to the web site, stecharities.org, and click the “Get Involved” tab. Or just call the organization at 812.949.7305 or 800.542.5245. “We’re small enough we can get you to the right person,” Casper said.